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The government has announced plans to change the law on Positions of Trust to include faith leaders following a campaign by Thirtyone:eight and other faith and safeguarding groups.

Today, 9th March, the Ministry of Justice has announced that the Positions of Trust law, which currently applies to roles like teachers and social workers, will be extended as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to include roles such as faith leaders and sports coaches.

The announcement has been hailed as a ‘significant step' forward and follows months of campaigning by many organisations. These include Thirtyone:eight and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Safeguarding in Faith Settings who in January 2020 launched their influential report on the issue: Positions of Trust: It’s time to change the law.  The report united churches and faith groups in calling for a change in the law to help better protect 16 and 17-year-olds from sexual abuse in faith settings.

Under current legislation it is 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 supervision. However, other adults who hold similar positions of power, trust and influence within settings such as faith and religious organisations and sports teams, including faith leaders and sports coaches, are not covered by the current provisions. This means that in non-statutory settings children are unnecessarily left more vulnerable to abuse.

The report of the APPG revealed that there was not just a need to extend the law, but it also challenged previous claims that there was insufficient appetite for such a change, as 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, Methodist, United Reformed Church and the Quakers, along with other faith communities. 

On 3rd March 2021 Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham and previous Chair of the APPG on Safeguarding in Faith Settings, led an Adjournment Debate to make the case to Government about why it was so important to change the law. Speaking at the debate Ms Champion said: “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.”

Alex Chalk, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, responded by acknowledging the work of the APPG and Thirtyone:eight which he said had “helped inform our thinking as we consider the protections afforded to children and young people by the criminal law.”

Justin Humphreys, our joint-CEO and current Chair of the Christian Forum for Safeguarding said: "We have been leading discussions on the topic of positions of trust with the Christian community and its various denominations for the past three years, with general support for a change in the current legal provision. This change to the law is a ‘significant step’ in moving forward efforts to provide better protection for young people in faith settings and other activities.

“We have yet to see the detail within the bill and will be keeping a close eye on how this develops as simply extending the existing list of those roles or positions that may fall in scope of the law is insufficient to afford the best protections for young people.

“I’m delighted that the combined efforts of Thirtyone:eight, the APPG, NSPCC, faith groups and many others have brought about this change. It illustrates powerfully the impact groups coming together to raise their collective voice can have and changes that can be brought about as result. We shall be closely reviewing and monitoring the detail of the announcement over the coming weeks.”

Bishop Viv Faull, deputy lead safeguarding bishop for the Church of England, said in a statement: "We welcome the announcement in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill being introduced in Parliament today, that faith leaders who have sexual relationships with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care will be breaking the law under new legislation planned for England and Wales. This was one of the recommendations in the interim report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, IICSA, in 2019, in its Anglican Church investigation. We responded to the IICSA recommendation at the time indicating our full support for the change in law. We would also like to thank Thirtyone:eight and the All Party Parliamentary Group on safeguarding in faith settings for all their important campaigning work on the Positions of Trust issue.”

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