LONDON: SINCE 2012, 87 crimes were recorded by the Metropolitan Police involving adults working in positions of trust having sex with 16 or 17-year-olds in their care. But the Government is backtracking on plans to extend laws further.
It is illegal for teachers, care workers and youth justice staff to have sexual contact with 16 and 17-year-old children under their supervision. There have been 1,406 Abuse of Position of Trust offences recorded across England and Wales since 2012, with an increase of 51 per cent over that period.
But despite this increase, a loophole in the law means children are not properly protected from adults working in other roles, such as sports coaches, religious leaders and youth workers.
Following an NSPCC campaign, in November last year Sports Minister Tracey Crouch announced that the then Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Ministry of Justice had agreed that these laws would be extended to sports coaches.
But the Ministry of Justice has written to the NSPCC making clear that the Government believes laws on the age of consent and on non-consensual sexual activity provide adequate protection for 16 and 17 year olds who are preyed upon by adults who supervise them.
NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless has criticised the Government for this backtracking.
Mr Wanless said: “This change in direction is as disappointing as it is dangerous.
“It shows a lack of understanding of the nature of grooming whereby young people might feel that they are in a loving relationship, when in fact an adult with considerable power and influence over them is abusing their position of trust for sexual gratification.
“That position of power is not diminished if it exists on the sports pitch, in the mini bus, or in the changing rooms, as opposed to in the classroom. Yet bizarrely the law draws such a distinction.”
Mr Wanless added: “More than 1,400 of these crimes have been recorded in recent years, but this could be just the tip of the iceberg given the plethora of roles not covered.
“How many more hundreds of children will be abused before the Government delivers on its promise made in the House of Commons?”
Television presenter and campaigner Charlie Webster echoed Mr Wanless and blasted the Government for this change in direction.
Ms Webster said: “I, along with the NSPCC have repeatedly highlighted and investigated this loophole for several years now. I was told after numerous meetings where I brought its danger to light that we had been successful in amending the law.
“It is not only a disappointment that this has happened but it scares me that we are still letting our most vulnerable down as they slip through the net. Despite the fact that sexual abuse and the grooming process has become a narrative more out in the open the law and its implementation is still regressive. I can’t emphasise enough how dangerous this is.”
The NSPCC is calling for the Government to deliver on its promise to extend position of trust laws to sports coaches.
The charity will continue to campaign for laws on positions of trust to be extended to cover all adults defined as working in what is known as ‘regulated activity’. This applies to adults who work regularly with children, and who teach, train, instruct, care for or supervise children, or provide guidance on well-being, or drive a vehicle only for children.
By using this definition, the law will not be limited to an arbitrary list of settings that inevitably leaves some children unprotected.
For more information on the NSPCC’s campaign visit: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-we-do/campaigns/trust-to-lead/