Pictured from left: Justin Humphreys (CEO, Thirtyone:eight - Secretariat to APPG), Preet Kaur Gill (MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and Vice-Chair of the APPG), Sarah Champion (MP for Rotherham and Chair of the APPG), Emily Hilton (Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, NSPCC) and Samuel Barker (Hugh James Solicitors, representing Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses Crimes Against Children Group).
Sarah Champion leads cross-party MPs and faith groups in call to change the law to protect 16 and 17 year olds from sexual abuse in faith settings.
Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Safeguarding in Faith Settings, has launched a report calling for Government to close the loophole in the law that allow adults in ‘positions of trust’ to legally engage in sexual activity with the young people they are working with.
Under current legislation, only certain job roles are designated as a ‘position of trust’ under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, including teachers and youth justice workers. As a result, it is against the law for them to engage in sexual activity with the 16 or 17-year-olds that they supervise. However, adults working in other settings, such as faith organisations or sports clubs, do not commit a crime if engage in sexual activity with children aged 16 or 17 under their supervision, even though adults in these positions often hold significant power and influence over the child. This means that in non-statutory settings children are unnecessarily left more vulnerable to abuse.
The call to change the law comes with the full backing of many of the major church groups represented in the UK, including: The Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, the United Reformed Church and others. A change in law is also supported by the NSPCC, and a number of professional safeguarding bodies and academics.
Commenting, Sarah Champion said, “It makes no sense that young people should be protected from grooming and sexual abuse at school but not at their church or football club. Children attending youth groups at their church, participating in a gymnastics team or having driving lessons are vulnerable because the current law does not prevent the adults supervising them from engaging in sexual activity.
The risk is particularly high in faith settings because adults holding positions in faith organisations are automatically seen as having authority, power and influence and the opportunity for abuse of that power is significant. It is not appropriate for an adult who has responsibility for supervising a child to engage in sexual activity with them and the law must be changed to recognise this.”
Currently, the definition of a ‘position of trust’ is limited to a small number of roles defined in Section 21 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which prevents the legislation from achieving its purpose across a range of non-statutory settings. Section 22 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 describes a person as in a ‘position of trust’ if they are ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of such a person’.
The report calls for the Government to make a simple change in the law so that the definition of a ‘position of trust’ is not limited to the defined roles in Section 21 but applies to any adult who is ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of such a person’ as per Section 22.
Sarah Champion said “This issue can be easily remedied by a simple change in the law. A definition of ‘position of trust is already there in Section 22 in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The Government simply needs to apply it to every adult who holds supervising responsibility for a child they are working with and not limit it to a few professions. This will bring clarity and help to prevent abusers from exploiting the system to groom and abuse children. There is no reason why the Government should continue to resist. We have faith, sports and safeguarding organisations all demanding this change in law – now is the time for action not further excuses or delay.”
Justin Humphreys, CEO at the independent safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight who provide the secretariat to the APPG said "We have been leading discussions on the topic of positions of trust with the Christian community and its various denominations for the past 18 months, with general support for timely exploration and a change in the current legal provision. However, this is not an area of interest that is just confined to the church. Similar concerns exist across faith groups and this report brings the voice of the faith sector clearly into this discussion.”
Download a copy of the report as a pdf here.