At last, the Government has announced that new legislation contained within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was introduced to Parliament on Tuesday 9th March 2021. This bill will finally close the loophole that has allowed sports coaches and priests to have sexual relationships with 16- and 17-year-olds in their care and literally “get away” with child abuse.
This bill will put these two groups into the same category as professionals such as Teachers, Social Workers and Doctors. Those who are found guilty of abusing their professional trust can now expect the same criminal proceedings that have seen scores of professionals jailed for these child abuse offences.
The change in the law has occurred after a long campaign spearheaded by the NSPCC and also backed by numerous charities, sports and religious organisations who recognised the dangers to children from these predators, indeed recent high profile media articles featuring abuse by sports coaches has prompted widespread concerns that this loophole is being exploited by unscrupulous individuals who use the age of consent(16) as their justification and the discrepancy in the current law to commit child sexual abuse. This issue has also been identified by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) led by Professor Alexis Jay, contained within many of the inquiries reports as well as findings from The Truth Project has identified many victims of abuse by leaders from differing religious orders who have systematically abused children for decades using this unfortunate lapse within the law.
We note that these are currently the only two groups that have been identified within the Bill that will be included with the new amendment to the Sexual Offences Act namely section 22A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, whilst we are delighted with the addition of these two categories we also take note that there will be provision via secondary legislation if required to add more categories if the need arises, we feel that this is important to recognise the many other unregulated and unaffiliated activities that our children attend and could be areas of concern, i.e. dance, drama, modelling, driving lessons to name a few.
One area which sport and religion must cover though is educating children in these settings about the roles of those within sport and religion and what are the professional boundaries that simply must not be crossed and how children can raise concerns if they are worried about their friends or themselves. Parents must also be involved and educated, within many stories of abuse through sport and religion it is clear that parents have also been groomed, and are we sure that all parents are “strong” enough to make a formal complaint or raise a concern with a powerful sports coach or respected religious leader, the ability to silence children and parents is a characteristic of these predators and we must also be aware of those enablers who have allowed abuse to happen within their setting and failed in their moral duty to protect children at the expense of the institution of the club.
As always, we at the NWG are happy to have any conversation regarding this article or other issues related to child exploitation so please do contact us on the details below
Kevin Murphy and Bina Parmar
Safeguarding in Sport Team
NWG Exploitation Response Unit