The NSPCC relaunches its Close the Loophole campaign

Last updated: 15 Nov 2018 Topics: Working with our partners Safeguarding children Type: News article

The NSPCC is calling for all adults working with children to be covered by the law, to stop children being preyed upon as soon as they turn 16.

At present 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.

This means that if adults working in any other settings, such as sport, have sex with children aged 16 or 17 under their supervision, it is not currently a crime, even if the adult has a significant level of power, responsibility and influence over the child.

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.

Through its Close the Loophole campaign, the NSPCC is lobbying government again to change the law and protect young people in sport, but they need your support.

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.”

How does the loophole affect sport?

In the last 4 years, police in England and Wales have recorded 1,025 crimes of abuse of position of trust of a sexual nature across sectors.

Over the same 4-year period, there were 653 complaints of this nature made to local authorities. Out of over 40 applicable sectors that this loophole affects, around 33% of these complaints related to sport.

The NSPCC feels that to extend the law only to cover sports roles, would be a missed opportunity and still leave many children unprotected in other sectors.

The effect on young people

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 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 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.”

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

Sign up to support the NSPCC in this vital campaign and help close the loophole in sport and beyond.

Further information

Get talking about #CloseTheLoophole on social media or find out more about the campaign on the NSPCC website.

Find out more about preventing abuse of positions of trust within sport in our briefing paper on the subject.