By Russell Findlay

The dark crime of sexual assault against a child was something the mother saw in the news, a horror that happens to other people's families - not her own eight-year-old daughter.

And when the perpetrator was revealed as the teenage son of a trusted family friend - a high-flyer destined for dental school - her shock was followed by anger, confusion and disbelief.

The revelation led to an ordeal that left the family with more questions than answers, with the teenager found guilty by a sheriff but given an absolute discharge - meaning no criminal record.

It has left the girl's family wondering whether their pursuit of justice was worthwhile. Was putting their daughter through the trauma of the court process the right thing to do?

The abuse came to light last summer after the girl and her family spent a sociable evening with their friends, the parents of the teen.

"We'd been over to the boy's house and the next morning my daughter had got up and spoke to her dad and said that she'd got something that she needed to tell him," the mother told STV News.

"I came back home from work and asked my daughter a few questions about what had happened to make sure that she was accurate about where she had been touched."

Confiding in her dad, the girl told how the teenager had pressed his hand between her legs on numerous occasions. Sometimes he played her favourite songs on YouTube when he carried out the assaults.

The abuse had taken place over two years, starting when she was six and he was 15. The girl eventually confided in her dad.

The girl's mum hoped the abuser would receive professional help but when that did not appear to be happening, she called police and he was charged.

The family was determined to follow the correct path and had every faith in Police Scotland, the Crown Office and courts.

However, six months after their daughter's brave disclosure, the mother's faith in the criminal justice system has been badly shaken.

They are still reeling at the absolute discharge, the lack of transparency around the sentence and the Crown's decision not to appeal against it.

The mother describes the journey through the courts as "the most distressing thing that any of us have been through" and asks whether they would put their faith in the system again.

"This won't be something for her that goes away," she said. "She's very aware of it and she's been very upset by it... what good has it done?

"Although she was upset by it, it's the court process that has upset her as much and more.

"Going to the police and dragging the family through the court and dragging my daughter to a police station and giving evidence and going to court and giving evidence for two hours and her crying at night time and her wondering why all this has happened. What good has it done?"

There were problems from the outset. Police Scotland said the girl's lengthy video recorded interview, carried out by two specialist female officers, had failed - so was not available as evidence.

"I was told that would be all a child would need to do," she said. "She's very young and she'd given a statement and as far as the police were concerned that would be it."

According to Police Scotland, despite the botched interview, "there was no detrimental impact on the victim or in terms of the case".

In a statement, they said: "On the rare occasion there is an issue with equipment, extensive notes taken by officers during any interview will be used for court purposes."

Then came another bombshell. Despite the abuser's initial confession, he then pleaded not guilty in court, which meant that the girl needed to give evidence.

The mum said: "When I got the news that he'd pleaded not guilty, I was absolutely gobsmacked because I'd sat there and listened to him say that he'd done it in front of his parents."

Last year, Scotland's top judge Lord Carloway announced that sex crime victims should no longer have to appear in court. The Lord President said his "ultimate objective" was for them to be able to give filmed statements within 24 hours of reporting the crime and that cross-examination should take place before the trial and away from court.

The reality was very different to those ideals.

The victim gave evidence over two hours by video link from another room in the court and was questioned by a prosecutor and cross-examined by the teenager's lawyer.

The mother said: "I didn't really get any advice on how to tell a child that they'd have to go to court or what to prepare her for.

"So on the morning of it I said 'me and dad have got to go to court today and we wondered if you would have time to be able to come with us and help the policemen out and serve the Queen because one of the laws had been broken'."

The law firm Beltrami & Co represented the teenager. It points out that case was "conducted with care and professionalism throughout".

They added: "Victims will often find the experience of giving evidence in court difficult, particularly in cross examination. Both the Crown and the sheriff can and do intervene if cross-examination of any vulnerable witness is in any way inappropriate. No such issues arose at any point in this case."

While the family still hopes to persuade the Crown to appeal against the sheriff's sentence, it also hopes that speaking out may lead to the justice system becoming more transparent and considerate towards victims.

However, the mum admits that she would think twice about reporting crime in future.

"It's taken me to do this now to try and push this further because I feel like the court, the justice system has let us all down and society down," she said.

"We've been done a total misjustice but I actually think the court has let the abuser down as well. I would think twice and I wouldn't want that to deter somebody else because it's the right thing to do, to report it.

"But for me, if I could go back in time, I don't know if all this has been worth it at this point."