Police can't act on more than 650 abuse of positions of trust complaints

A loophole in the law allows adults to target teenagers for sex.

Police are unable to investigate more than 650 complaints made to councils about adults having sex with teenagers in their care made between 2014 and 20181. A legal loophole means individuals such as sports coaches and faith leaders aren't covered by the Position of Trust law.

Currently, only people such as teachers, care workers and youth justice workers are legally in a position of trust, meaning it is against the law for them to have sex with 16 or 17-year-olds that they supervise. Our Close the Loophole campaign is calling for these laws to be extended to all adults working with young people, to stop children being preyed upon as soon as they turn 16.


Our investigation

Our investigation shows:

  • in the last four years police in England have recorded 1,025 crimes of Abuse of Position of Trust of a Sexual Nature2
  • councils have received 653 complaints about adults who are not currently covered by the criminal law engaging in sexual activity with children in their care.

Of these 653 complaints, councils recorded the adults' jobs or volunteer roles in 495 cases. Of these:

  • 31% related to adults working in sports settings
  • 14% related to adults in faith settings
  • 11% related to youth work.

As some councils didn't provide figures, the true extent could be even higher. Close the Loophole calls for all adults working with children to be covered by the law, so young people are protected in all activities. 

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The government's stance

In November last year, former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch announced that the then Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Ministry of Justice had agreed that Position of Trust laws would be extended to sports coaches.

But no action has been taken, and the Ministry of Justice has since written to the NSPCC making clear that the Government believes laws on the age of consent and on non-consensual sexual activity provide adequate protection for 16 and 17 year olds who are preyed upon by adults who supervise them.

Campaign to change the law

Megan's story

Megan*, an elite athlete, reported being targeted by her sports coach Will*, who was in his thirties and had been training her since she was 13. When she turned 16 Megan says he began sending her sexual messages, before starting a sexual relationship with her when she was 17. Megan said:

"We used to speak on webcam and he would ask me to do sexual things but I said no. He would go in a mood when I said no. He carried on coaching me and would pick me up first and drop me off last so we’d be alone together in his car or van. He would pull over somewhere quiet and that’s when things would happen. I was 17 when we first kissed. We didn’t have sex but we did other things. After that happened, he selected me for his other club. It was a secret so I felt like I had to delete all of our messages. It didn’t feel nice to keep it a secret because it felt like I was lying. There were a lot of feelings of guilt involved."

Will received a temporary coaching ban but because sports coaches aren't covered by the criminal law, police were not in a position to bring charges against him.

Close the Loophole: our campaign

We're calling on the government to:

  • extend the Position of Trust law to include all roles where an adult holds a position of power over 16 and 17-year-olds
  • make it illegal for any adult to have sexual activity with a young person under 18 in their care.

We need your help to ensure young people are safe.

Help us Close the Loophole

Peter WanlessPeter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive said:

"It is absolutely outrageous that the law protects children in the classroom, but not on the sports pitch, or in a whole host of other activities.

"Government promised to extend these laws to sports coaches, but we've yet to see action and I fear they are backtracking.

"Any extension of the law must apply to all adults working with young people. To keep children safe this loophole must be closed – it is not enough to simply make the loophole smaller."

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Keeping children safe

Close the Loophole

Help us #CloseTheLoophole in the law so it’s illegal for all adults to engage in sexual activity with any young person under 18 in their care.
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Children’s stories

Real life stories of children who’ve experienced abuse and other difficulties – and how we’ve helped them.
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*DISCLAiMER

Names have been changed, and the name of the sport omitted to protect anonymity.


References

  1. 1. The NSPCC made Freedom of Information requests to 172 councils which run children's services in England and Wales. The NSPCC asked for the number of complaints made about adults having sex with 16 and 17 year olds in their care who were not covered by the criminal law between 2014 and 2018. In total 161 councils gave at least a partial response to the requests. Over the four-year period they reported 653 complaints of this nature.

  2. 2. In England and Wales, under the offence of Abuse of Position of Trust of a Sexual Nature, it is a crime for an adult working in a position of trust to have sex with a child aged 16 or 17 in their care. The law is limited, and only covers adults working in education, health, care, or youth justice. Data on the number of offences of Abuse of Position of Trust of a Sexual Nature are published in the Home Office's Police recorded crime open data tables