Scot Govt under pressure to follow Westminster’s lead on abuse of trust law

The Scottish Government is under increasing pressure to tighten abuse of trust legislation to better protect vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds from sexual abuse.

It is currently a criminal offence for an adult in certain positions of authority, such as teachers and social workers, to engage in sexual conduct with a 16 or 17-year-old in their care. But sports coaches, religious leaders and youth workers are exempt.

Westminster recently announced a measure that would close that gap in the law in England and Wales, and concerned charities and individuals are now urging Holyrood to follow suit.

Tighter law

In 2018, the Scottish Government launched a public consultation on modernising the laws protecting children from harm.

It reported: “On the abuse of trust offence, a large number of respondents came back with suggestions for how the offence could be strengthened to cover all adults who may have particular power, influence or control over a child.”

The main suggestions included sports coaches, tutors, religious leaders and youth workers. However, unlike in England and Wales, no proposal to amend the law in this way has been made in Scotland.


Speaking for NSPCC Scotland, Joanna Barrett urged the Scottish Government to “move quickly” and change the law “so that more 16 and 17-year-olds are not put at risk”.

Experienced criminal lawyer Niall McCluskey noted: “Under the Sexual Offences Act, if a teacher has a sexual relationship with a school pupil, that’s a criminal offence.

“What they’re doing in England is extending that to include people like sports coaches, and it’s something that really should be looked at in Scotland.”


In February, an independent review on the sexual exploitation of boys in Scottish football raised serious concerns over abuse of trust in the game.

Commissioned by the Scottish Football Association, it detailed over thirty personal accounts of abuse.

The review’s authors said: “All of the circumstances described to the Review involved alleged abuse within relationships of trust where adults either apparently developed such relationships in order to sexually abuse or used the existence of such a relationship to create opportunities to abuse and/or persist in abusing young players.”

According to the report, an estimated 325,000 children and young people in Scotland currently participate in football.

Also see:

Abuse by sports coaches exposed by BBC

Paralympic legend backs abuse of trust law change

Former Sports Minister aims to close abuse of trust loophole

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