The Government has announced it will extend abuse of trust legislation to protect vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds in England and Wales from sexual abuse.
Currently, teenagers who are above the age of consent, but not yet adults, are protected in law from being abused by adults in a position of authority over them, such as teachers, police officers and social workers. For more than 20 years, The Christian Institute has argued this should also apply to the likes of sports coaches and religious leaders.
After a number of delays, the Ministry of Justice has announced that a measure contained in the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill being introduced in Parliament today would close that gap in the law.
In a statement, it said the new Bill would widen “important laws which prevent adults in ‘positions of trust’ from engaging in sexual relationships with young people under the age of 18, bringing sports coaches and religious leaders in line with other occupations such as teachers and doctors.
“The move follows an extensive review which raised concerns that predators could exploit the particular influence these roles can often have in a young person’s life – making them vulnerable to abuse.”
The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director Ciarán Kelly welcomed the news, calling it an opportunity to “correct the mistakes of the past”.
He said: “We’re delighted that the Government is finally taking decisive steps to deal with the glaring omissions in the law. This is long overdue.
Twenty year campaign
The Institute began campaigning for a comprehensive abuse of trust offence in 2000 after it undertook detailed analysis of the systemic abuse uncovered by the Waterhouse inquiry into children’s homes in North Wales.
Mr Kelly added: “We’ve been saying for more than twenty years that the abuse of trust offence is far too narrow. It was always obvious to us that leaving sports coaches, religious leaders and the like out of the scope of the law would put vulnerable young people at risk.
“We’re pleased that this Government is finally taking action to correct the mistakes of the past. It must now make sure the changes are watertight.
“We will be paying close attention to the precise wording of the Bill to ensure that no loopholes remain. This is a chance to finally put things right. We don’t want to be back here again in another 20 years.”
Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, also welcomed the change.
He said: “This landmark step sends a clear message that children and young people can return to the extracurricular activities they love without being at risk of grooming by the very adults they should look to for support and guidance”.