The rise in sextortion crimes in East Lothian is a “big concern” according to the manager of a county youth organisation.

A rise in the crime – which sees victims encouraged to share intimate images or videos with individuals they have met online and then threatened that they will be sent to friends and family unless they pay – has emerged since Covid.

A meeting of East Lothian’s Police and Fire Board heard that four out of 10 people reporting the crime were aged 18 and under.

The number of reports of crimes of threats and extortion in the second quarter of 2023/24 was 36 – significantly higher than the five-year average of 5.4.

Alan Bell, manager at youth organisation Recharge, based in Tranent, said he was deeply concerned about the figures but that the group offered a variety of support methods for youngsters affected by such crimes.

Recharge offers a range of activities to youngsters aged 11 to 18 to help build their confidence, self-esteem and life skills.

Mr Bell said: “We are seeing that crimes like this are increasing across the country, and of course it is a big concern.

“We have resources to help with things like this, and I think now that access to the internet has become more vital, particularly since Covid, it is important kids are aware of internet crimes.

“We have resources that help teach kids about the importance of privacy, their right to privacy, what happens when you put pictures and photos online, and encouraging them not to share intimate pictures online.

“We are also looking into education on avoiding internet scams, another modern issue.

“This is an issue now where I do think kids are more willing to open up about it due to how big an issue it is. They are not alone and there is always support, including from us or other youth groups out there.”

Chief Inspector Ben Leathes, Police Scotland’s local area commander for East Lothian, said at the Police and Fire Board meeting: “Sextortion is a theme that has emerged in the last two or three years, particularly in the wake of Covid.

“It is particularly prevalent, unfortunately, in the younger age groups. I looked at the figures and aged 13 to 18 make up 40 per cent of [all] the victims in East Lothian.

“It shows the vital nature of interventions in schools and I can’t overemphasise the need to support young people in safe internet use and making safe decisions.”

Ch Insp Leathes made the comments as it was revealed that ‘group one’ crimes, which include sextortion, had risen in East Lothian by more than 120 per cent during the second quarter of this year, compared to a five-year average.

A report to the board said the increase from an average of 52.4 to 116 reports was “heavily driven by threats and extortion crimes, termed ‘sextortion’”.

Kenny MacAskill, East Lothian’s MP, believed the figures regarding sextortion to be “hugely concerning”.

Mr MacAskill said: “Crime is moving online. It’s hard to police not just for Police Scotland but parents.

“With so many youngsters vulnerable it’s a lesson that parents need to be ever vigilant to protect their children. The effects can be catastrophic for these youngsters.

“Media platforms need to do so much more to stop it and sadly have been remiss, to say the least, far too often. Equally, though, those doing the exploiting need punished hard.”

Paul McLennan, East Lothian MSP, said he would discuss the alarming figures with Police Scotland,

He said: “It’s something that is of concern. I will be contacting the police to ask if they have any reasons for the increase.

“Its something I will raise with the education service.”

Debbie Noble, assistant director of children and family services at Children 1st, Scotland’s national children’s charity, said: “Alongside our partners in East Lothian, we view sextortion as an abhorrent crime against children and young people that can have a serious and long-lasting impact.

“More investment in young people is required to make sure we prevent this harm and help children recover from trauma.

“Sextortion is a violation of young people’s right to be safe as they go about their daily lives. Disturbingly, we know it’s a growing crime and very often adults feel at a loss to know what to do for the best.

“Children 1st Parentline is here to listen to every parent, carer or professional concerned about a child seven days a week on 08000 28 22 33."


An East Lothian Council spokesperson added: “This report highlights the need for all age groups to stay safe online and to be aware of potential exploitation.

“Our schools regularly discuss safe online behaviours with their young people through assemblies and in the curriculum.

“They also share information with parents and carers to encourage open discussions at home and to ensure they are aware of their child’s life online.

“If any child or young person is concerned about an approach they have received online we would encourage them to report it through the appropriate channels and discuss it with a trusted adult.

“NSPCC has excellent information for young people, parents and carers available from their website.” 

Overall crime across East Lothian during the first six months of this year was up 16 per cent, and sexual offences rose in the second quarter by 14 per cent.

The report revealed that, while rape and sexual assaults had dropped by about 20 per cent during the reporting period, ‘other’ offences, which referred to either non-recent or non-contact offences perpetrated over the internet, rose by 69 per cent from the five-year average of 44.6 to 75.

Anti-social behaviour was down by 11 per cent, from 3,025 to 2,665 reports; however, house break-ins rose by 166 per cent during the quarter, from an average of 35.6 to 95 reports.