Sarah Champion: Position of trust legislation must be extended to cover extracurricular activities
We must close the extracurricular loophole and protect 16 and 17-year-olds from sexual exploitation, writes Sarah Champion
We all appreciate the crucial role extracurricular activities play in childhood. Whether it’s learning new skills, discovering passions or making friends, these are experiences that stay with you for life. However, for hundreds of children these opportunities are leading to grooming and sexual exploitation by the very adults they rely on for support and guidance. That’s why I am lobbying Government to extend the definition of adults who are in a position of trust over children and supporting the NSPCC’s ‘Close the Loophole’ campaign.
Staff and volunteers working with children are in roles that give them the opportunity to form close relationships over years, and the power to determine whether a child makes the team, pass their driving test or get to travel to the competition of their dreams. No child’s ambitions should be ruined by the sexual advances of an adult that is supposed to have their best interests at heart.
"No child's ambitions should be ruined by the sexual advances of an adult that is supposed to have their best interests at heart"
While position of trust legislation currently prohibits teachers and social workers from exploiting their position to groom children, there’s nothing stopping other adults who wield similar power over children from doing exactly that.
This means sports coaches, driving instructors, youth workers and others cannot currently be prosecuted for having a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17-year-old, despite the fact this is happening to children across the country. Figures obtained by the NSPCC from local authorities showed that between 2014 and 2018, over 650 complaints were made about adults in professions not covered by the position of trust law having sex with children in their care. As many more incidents will not have been reported, the true number of children who have not been protected from this form of abuse is likely much higher.
We know that predators will start to groom children at the age of 15 or younger, before initiating a sexual relationship once they have turned 16. I have heard first-hand from my work with survivors of child sexual abuse that it can be incredibly difficult for children to seek justice for what has happened to them. Children who are sexual exploited by professionals not covered by the existing law will be told by the justice system that no crime has been committed. On top of that, the child has to deal with the psychological implications of being taken advantage of by someone who is supposed to protect them.
To better protect these young people, the Government must follow through on its commitment to close this legal loophole. Children deserve to participate in the sports, faith and other extracurricular activities that they love without being in danger of manipulation by those in positions of authority over them.
The risks are well recognised, the harm is long term, and action is overdue. It is over 18 months since a commitment was made to extend the definition – the findings of the current review must finally bring this to an end, and close the loophole.
Sarah Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham