Although the age of consent in the UK is 16, it remains illegal for teachers and care workers, being in a position of trust, to have sexual relations with 16 and 17 year-olds in their care, even if the relationship is consensual. This does not however apply to other purported positions of trust, to include sports coaches.
In January 2017, the NSPCC called for the closure of a ‘loophole’ effectively allowing sports (and other) coaches to have legal sexual relationships with 16 and 17 year-olds under their care. In November 2017, a year after the revelations made by Andy Woodward, via The Guardian, concerning sexual abuse within football, the then sports minister Tracey Crouch announced that sexual relationships between sports coaches and 16-17 year olds in their care was to be made illegal. She said that ministerial agreement had been secured with the Ministry of Justice and Home Office to change the law regarding people in positions of trust, to include sport coaches.
The current position however remains the same and campaigners, including the NSPCC, have reignited this issue and accused the UK government of ‘backtracking’ on their 2017 proposals, on the basis that the current law is not adequate to protect children over whom such coaches have power and authority and often the trust of the children’s parents. The Ministry of Justice has said in response that it remains ‘absolutely committed to protecting children and young people from sexual abuse’ and that they ‘already have a wide range of criminal offences under which to prosecute and sentence those who carry out such acts.’
It remains to be seen how long it will take for the Government to act more constructively on this issue.
David Milton, Partner, BLM