MPs have called for urgent action from the government to close a loophole allowing sports coaches and religious figures to have sexual relationships with children.
It is currently against the law for someone in a ‘position of trust’ to engage in sexual activity with a child in their care, even if that child is over the age of consent (16 or over).
‘Position of trust’ is a legal term that refers to certain roles and settings where an adult has regular and direct contact with children. This includes teachers, care workers, doctors, and social workers.
But sports coaches and religious figures are not covered by the ‘abuse of trust’ law, which has been in place since 1999. This is the loophole that campaigners and MPs are calling to be closed.
The Christian Institute and others have been campaigning for many years to close the loophole, but so far successive governments have not acted.
Now a new report released by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on safeguarding in faith settings calls for an urgent change to the Sexual Offences Act as well as publicity to highlight the issue.
Labour MP Sarah Champion, who chairs the APPG, said, ‘Children attending youth groups at their church, participating in a gymnastics team, or having driving lessons are vulnerable because the current law does not prevent the adults supervising them from engaging in sexual activity.’
She added, ‘It is not appropriate for an adult who has responsibility for supervising a child to engage in sexual activity with them and the law must be changed to recognise this.’
In a comment piece she wrote for The Times, she said the report calls for the government to extend the current definitions of ‘a position of trust’ to cover any adult regularly involved in caring for, training, or supervising a child.
The report also said, ‘There should be no difference in the protections afforded to young people in a school environment and those granted in other settings where they spend time alone with adults.’
The comments were welcomed by Ciarán Kelly, deputy director of The Christian Institute. In a statement, Mr Kelly said, ‘We have been calling for this loophole to be closed for more than 20 years. It is high time the government took this obvious step to help protect vulnerable teenagers from sexual exploitation.’