Closing legal loophole will help protect children from harm

By Des Mannion

| 03 December 2018

When parents drop their children off at school or college each day, they are confident that they are entering a safe environment.

They understand that the adults in positions of power and authority over their children must not abuse it.

They also understand that on the rare occasions where power is abused, the full force of the law will be turned on those responsible.

But, surprisingly, the laws protecting teenagers are not as clear in all settings where adults work with young people.

There is a legal loophole which does not cover adults or volunteers working in certain areas alongside older teenagers.

The law surrounding the offence of abuse of position of trust of a sexual nature is limited.

It only covers adults working in education, health, care, or youth justice, meaning it is illegal for teachers, care workers and youth justice workers to have sex with 16 or 17-year-olds in their care.

For example, it does not apply to those adults working as sport coaches or on transport - the latter being a method by which many young people will use to get to or from school or college.

It is wrong that an adult in different roles can groom a child until they turn 16 and then legally have sex with them after forming a relationship.

In 2017, the UK government made a commitment to include sports coaches in position of trust laws but later backtracked. The Ministry of Justice later wrote to the NSPCC giving the impression that the current age of consent and on non-consensual sexual activity laws provide adequate protection for older teenagers who are preyed upon by supervising adults.

We want the law to be extended to include any adult who holds a position of power over 16- or 17-year-olds.

The need is clearly there - we know that in the last four years, police in England and Wales have recorded 1,025 position of trust offences.

It is fair to assume that if other roles were covered by the law, many more offences of this nature would be found to be taking place.

Our 'Close the Loophole' campaign is calling for these laws to be extended to all adults with responsibility for young people, to stop teenagers being preyed upon as soon as they turn 16.

Across England and Wales, our research found 653 complaints were made to councils about adults not currently covered by the criminal law having sex with young people in their care.

Most of the adults involved were recorded as working or volunteering in sport, youth work or faith settings, but also included force cadets and driving instructors.

It is absolutely outrageous that the law protects children in the classroom, but not on the sports pitch, or in a whole host of other activities. Government must act.

Any extension of the law must apply to all adults working with young people. To keep children safe, this loophole must be closed - it is not enough to simply make the loophole smaller.

Des Mannion is head of service, NSPCC Cymru

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