Following significant campaigning and research undertaken by Thirtyone:eight and others, a change in the law on ‘Positions of Trust’ to be inclusive of a wider range of settings, including those in faith settings, has achieved royal assent.
On 28 April 2022, the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act gained royal assent and became law in England and Wales. Within this, the ‘Positions of Trust’ law, which previously only applied to roles such as teachers and social workers, has now been extended to include roles such as faith leaders and sports coaches.
The changes follow years of campaigning by organisations including Thirtyone:eight and the NSPCC. In January 2020, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Safeguarding in Faith Settings, supported by Thirtyone:eight as its secretariat, launched their influential report on the issue: Positions of Trust: It’s time to change the law.
The report united churches, faith groups and others who work alongside them in calling for a change in the law to help better protect 16 and 17-year-olds from sexual abuse in faith settings.
Under previous legislation it was only illegal for certain individuals such as teachers, care workers and youth justice staff, to engage in sexual activity with a 16 or 17-year-old under their care and supervision. However, other adults who hold similar positions of power, trust and influence, including faith leaders and sports coaches, were not covered by the previous provisions within the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This meant that in non-statutory settings, some children were left more vulnerable to potential abuse.
The APPG report revealed that there was not only a need to extend the law, but also to challenge previous claims that there was insufficient appetite for such a change, since the report came with the full backing of the major church groups represented in the United Kingdom including the Church of England, Catholic Church, Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and the Quakers, along with other faith communities.
In March 2021, a year after the report, Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham and previous Chair of the APPG on Safeguarding in Faith Settings, spoke in the House of Commons about the importance of changing the law: “The Government have failed time and again to listen to me, to other MPs, to peers, to charities - especially the NSPCC and Thirtyone:eight - and to victims and survivors of sexual exploitation. The Government have failed time and again to close a loophole in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that leaves 16 and 17-year-olds open to sexual abuse.”
The Ministry of Justice acknowledged the work of the APPG and Thirtyone:eight saying they had “helped inform our thinking as we consider the protections afforded to children and young people by the criminal law.”
It has taken a further year for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act to proceed through parliament, but it finally gained royal assent on 28 April 2022.
Justin Humphreys, our joint-CEO, principal advisor to the APPG, said: "This significant change to the law has been several years in the making. Thirtyone:eight and others including the NSPCC have campaigned long and hard to protect the rights of children and young people from abuse by those in positions of trust over them. While the changes may not have gone as far as we might have liked, they are nonetheless important and will hopefully provide young people with greater safeguards into the future.
The sustained efforts of the wide variety of organisations and groups who have been calling for this change illustrates powerfully the impact groups coming together to raise their collective voice can have and changes that can be brought about as result. Faith groups particularly have a huge role in local communities throughout the United Kingdom and it is therefore crucial that these places are as safe as they can be.”
On 27 April 2022, the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill (Northern Ireland) gained royal assent. This Bill extends 'abuse of trust' legislation to faith leaders and sports coaches in Northern Ireland. Along with the NSPCC, faith and sports organisations, Thirtyone:eight successfully campaigned to the Northern Ireland Assembly to bring about this welcome change in legislation. There is a further amendment to be undertaken during the next mandate. Thirtyone:eight will continue to advocate on behalf of our children and young people.
Bishop Vivienne Faull, Co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Safeguarding in Faith Communities, and member of the Lords Spiritual, said in a statement: "We welcome the introduction of changes to Positions of Trust, meaning that faith leaders who have sexual relationships with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care will now be breaking the law under this new legislation for England and Wales. I would like to thank Thirtyone:eight and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for all their important campaigning work on the Positions of Trust issue.”