New positions of trust covered under sexual abuse legislation

We discuss the recent extension of sexual abuse legislation and what this might mean for future abuse cases.

14 July 2022

Parent holding hands with small child in sunny field

Following significant campaigning by groups and organisations, the Government is extending the “position of trust” offences contained within Sexual Offences Act 2003 to include activities that take place within sports and religious settings.

This is a much welcome development and will help protect children and young people. Here, Kerri Caskie from our specialist abuse team discusses the changes and what it means for future abuse cases.

Background to the legislation

The term “position of trust” relates to an individual who holds a position of authority or responsibility over another person. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, “position of trust” offences are intended to cover certain roles and settings where an adult has contact with a child or young person. In these circumstances there may be an element of dependency on the adult, paired with a degree of vulnerability of the child or young person.

Examples which would constitute a “position of trust” under the act include:

  • Teachers
  • Social workers
  • Doctors
  • Care workers

It’s against the law for an adult in a position of trust in this way to engage in sexual activity with a child or young person in their care, even if they are of the age to provide consent (aged 16 years or above). The legislation is in place to protect children and young people from potential abuse by individuals who hold influence or power over them.

Why has the legislation been changed?

Concerns were raised within Parliament and wider society that the positions of trust listed within the legislation were too narrow. Multiple examples of abuse taking place within sports settings and within a variety of religious settings have come to light, raising concerns that legislation should be extended.

Many organisations subsequently called for a change in the law to extend the current positions of trust to include individuals within the sports and religious settings. This campaign gained wide-spread public support.

As specialist lawyers representing victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in faith settings and in sports settings, such as acting for the victims and survivors of the paedophile football coach Barry Bennell, our team have been closely following these calls for change.

Changes to the law

In response to these calls, changes to the law have now been made to extend the position of trust offences to include both sport coaches and faith group leaders. The updated law now specifies a wider range of roles and settings where sexual activity between children or young people (aged 16 and 17 years old) and those in positions of trust amounts to a criminal offence. It’s now recognised that individuals in authority positions in sport and religion can also have an influence on the welfare of a child or young person in the same way as those roles already listed.

The updated law aims to ensure the protection of young people from abuse and exploitation within these settings, and is a positive legal change which is very much welcomed by our specialist abuse team.

At Slater and Gordon, our abuse specialists offer a free, confidential consultation to provide you with advice on your potential case. If you’ve suffered abuse within a sports or religious organisation, you can speak to one of our dedicated team in confidence on 0330 041 5869 or contact us online. We’re professional, yet compassionate and will handle your case with care and respect.

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