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Thirtyone:eight and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Safeguarding in Faith Settings launches a report which unites 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.

The report, which was launched in parliament on Tuesday 28th January, calls for the Government to make ‘simple’ changes that will close current loopholes in the law that allows people working in positions of trust to legally engage in sexual activity with the young people they are working with. The call to change the law comes 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. 

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.

This new report - Positions of Trust: It’s time to change the law - reveals that there is not just a need for the law to extend ‘positions of trust’ to any adult working with children while in a ‘position of trust’, but it also challenges previous claims that there is insufficient appetite to warrant such a change. From the evidence submitted to the inquiry from survivors, faith and religious organisations and the third sector, there is a clear consensus that the definition of ‘positions of trust’ needs revising.

Justin Humphreys, our joint-CEO 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. The existing loophole in the law allows adults who clearly meet the criteria of being in a position of trust, such as a faith leaders or workers, to engage in sexual activity with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care with impunity. This leaves young people at risk of grooming and sexual abuse at the hands of adults assigned power and trust.”

On providing evidence to the inquiry, the Archbishop’s Council of the Church of England expressed its full support for changing the law and noted that IICSA’s report on the Diocese of Chichester and the case of Peter Ball recommended that the Sexual Offences Act 2003 be extended to include clergy.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain expressed strong support for extending the definition of ‘Position of Trust’, stating: "We support the work currently underway to extend the positions of trust legislation to include those in leadership roles in religious organisations. We also believe that the ability to automatically refer cases involving adults in a position of trust within the church to the police would assist in the effective handling of investigations, and therefore the safeguarding of children and young people."

The Methodist Church also provided a detailed written statement to the inquiry expressing their strong support for extending Positions of Trust legislation, stating: "The extent of roles included in the legislation limits the potential impact and there is a perception that the concept of a ‘position of trust’ already extends beyond those currently specified in law."

The report highlighted that the limited number of roles defined in Section 21 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 prevents the legislation from achieving its purpose across a range of non-statutory settings, many of which may be subject to less scrutiny than the settings currently covered. The report makes clear that the Government can close the loophole by making simple amendments to existing legislation and applying Section 22 to any adult ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge’ of a child, and not limiting this to the professions listed in Section 21. This will bring clarity to the law and prevent people from exploiting the system to groom and abuse children.

The report contains five recommendations which call on the government to launch a public campaign to communicate the legal changes so that adults working with children, organisations, parents and young people are aware of the change. The report also recommends closer working and consultation between government departments and Local Authority Designated Officers to raise awareness of issues around child abuse and abuse of trust in faith settings, and the revision of current statutory guidance to take better account of the role and extent of faith group activity in safeguarding children and young people.

Sarah Champion MP, chair of the APPG 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.”

A pdf copy of the report can be downloaded here.

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