In August 2022, the Sexual Offenses Act 2003 (the Act) was updated to extend the definition of ‘positions of trust’ to include those who interact with 16-17 year olds in a context religious or athletic.
The change in the legislation was made following concerns expressed in parliament and in society at large (for example, through the NSPCC’s ‘Close the Loophole’ campaign) that definitions of positions of trust were drafted too narrowly and needed to be expanded to protect a wider range of relationships where adults were in a position of influence or power over 16 and 17 year olds.
Prior to the amendment, sections 16 to 19 of the law made it illegal for an adult in a position of trust to engage in sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old. The legislation was intended to protect young people aged 16 and 17 who were over the age of consent, but who would be considered vulnerable to sexual abuse or exploitation due to adults’ position of trust, influence or power. on them. A position of trust arises in situations where the young person is to some degree dependent on the adult, such as when care, medical care or education is provided.
The legislation as originally drafted focused on statutory frameworks and narrowly defined the roles in which a position of trust could arise, while schools, hospitals and residential care facilities were included. , non-statutory frameworks such as sports and religious activities were not. This has given rise to situations where a sports coach, who engaged in sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old in his care, may have violated his organization’s internal policies and be subject to disciplinary, but would not have committed a criminal offence.
This imbalance prompted the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to review the legislation; they have engaged with stakeholders in the youth and criminal justice sectors, including the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), sports bodies, victims’ groups and religious organisations. The need for reform has also been highlighted by the Independent Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry.
The amendment resulted in the addition of a new section (Section 22A) to the Act which states that a person is in a position of trust if the person coaches, teaches, trains, supervises or instructs [a 16 or 17 year old], on a regular basis, in a sport or religion. Sport is defined as (a) any game in which physical skill is the predominant factor, and (b) any form of physical recreation which is also engaged in for the purpose of competition or demonstration. Religion is defined as (a) religion that involves belief in more than one god, and (b) religion that does not involve belief in one god.
Some organizations felt the amendments did not go far enough and had pushed for legislation that encompasses all adults involved in the care, training, supervision or exclusive responsibility of 16 and 17 year olds. The government was however concerned that such a far-reaching amendment would limit the sexual rights and freedoms of those over the age of 16 and as a compromise included a provision in the law to allow additional positions of trust to be added via secondary legislation. if necessary.