MP champions government reform on child sexual abuse

4th March 2021

MP champions government reform on child sexual abuse

Does a sports coach have less influence over a child than their teacher?

As Labour MP, Sarah Champion, told parliament yesterday, the law currently thinks so.

On Wednesday 3 March 2021, Ms Champion delivered a speech to parliament asking the Minister for Justice to change the law to close a loophole in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which enables some people in a position of trust to sexually exploit 16 and 17 year olds in their care without legal consequences.

Currently, the legislation makes it an offence for anyone in a “position of trust” to engage in sexual activity with any 16 or 17 year olds in their care. This includes teachers and provides important protection from exploitation to young people of that age as other offences concerning children only apply to those 15 years old or under.

However, a person is only considered to be in a position of trust for the purposes of the 2003 Act if their role or profession is one of those listed in s21 of the Act.

As Ms Champion pointed out, sports coaches and faith leaders are not included in s21 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This allows such a person to engage in sexual activity with 16 and 17 year olds under their care without legal action. This is a loophole which she says the government have failed yet to correct despite her raising the issue several years ago.

It may seem obvious to most that, for instance, a sports coach, who will see a young person every day and, as Ms Champion put it, have the power to make their dreams come true, has just as much, if not more, influence over a child than their academic teachers. Surely, it follows that the sports coach should be said to be in a position of trust.

In fact, in 2019, the Minister for Justice did conduct an internal review of the law.

In her speech, Ms Champion describes how, in March 2020, after only being in post for a few short weeks, the minister stated it was crystal clear that this is an extremely important issue that requires a clear, considered and decisive response.

In the same announcement, the minister went on to say that we should consider urgently all options including legislative change and must be in a position to announce the next steps by the end of May 2020. No announcement has been forthcoming.

As a result, Ms Champion addressed parliament yesterday to ask the minister when exactly the government will announce the next steps to protect young people from sexual abuse by all those in whom they put their trust.

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