Police cannot act on 74 complaints about adults in the South West of England having sex with teenagers in their care because a legal loophole means individuals such as sports coaches and faith leaders aren’t covered by the law.
At present only people like 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.
The NSPCC’s Close the Loophole campaign is calling for these laws to be extended to all adults with responsibility for young people, to stop children being preyed upon as soon as they turn 16.
In the last four years police in England and Wales have recorded 1,025 crimes of Abuse of Position of Trust of a Sexual Nature.
But council figures obtained by the NSPCC show a further 653 complaints were made in England and Wales over the same period about adults who are not currently covered by the criminal law having sex with children in their care. And the true extent could be even higher because not all councils provided figures.
Councils recorded the adults’ jobs or volunteer roles in 495 cases. Of this, 31 % of cases were about adults working in sports settings, 14% related to adults in faith settings and 11% related to youth work.
Megan (names changed) 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 years old. When she turned 16, Megan says he began sending her sexual messages, before starting a sexual relationship with her when she was 17.
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.
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’d 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.”
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 giving the impression 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.
Peter 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.”
To sign up as a campaigner for the NSPCC’s Close the Loophole campaign, click here.