The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is due to be formally introduced in Parliament today. One of the measures is a law expanding the prevention of adults in ‘positions of trust’ from engaging in sexual relationships with young people under the age of 18.
Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (‘SOA’) it is at present illegal for certain professionals, including teachers, social workers and doctors, to engage in sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old because they are considered to be in a position of trust in relation to the young person. Sports coaches and religious leaders, for example, have not however previously been included within this category of professionals. This will change under the new legislation.
Although young people aged 16 or 17 years old are legally able to consent to sexual activity, they are still legally children and the inclusion of the position of trust recognises the inherent imbalance of power that exists between professionals and young people, which could otherwise have the potential to be exploited or to affect the young person’s judgment in decisions regarding consent.
Sports coaches in particular are often experts who are held in high esteem within their sport and within the environments in which they coach. Coaches also often have considerable one-to-one contact with and close personal relationships to the children that they coach. In high performance environments, children may be competing for selection for teams or events and the close attention of a coach can be perceived to be instrumental to success. These factors can influence the dynamics of consent and make it more difficult for children to challenge any inappropriate behaviour.
Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC. which campaigned for the law change, said it was “delighted” that the Government had agreed to “close this legal loophole“. He added that “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”.