IT SHOULD be illegal for people in positions of trust at churches to engage in sexual activities with 16- and 17-year-olds, a group of MPs has said.
In a report published on Tuesday, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Safeguarding in Faith Settings called on the Government to change the law regarding positions of trust in relation to faith organisations and sports clubs.
The report, Positions of Trust: It’s time to change the law, recommends that the law be changed in line with that which applies to teachers, care workers, and youth justice staff.
The report has received support from the Archbishops’ Council, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, and the Quakers.
Sarah Champion MP, who chairs the APPG, said: “It makes no sense that young people should be protected from grooming and sexual abuse at school but not at their church or football club.
“Children attending youth groups at their church, participating in a gymnastics team, or having driving lessons are vulnerable because the current law does not prevent the adults supervising them from engaging in sexual activity.”
The report argues that the Government can close the loophole by making simple amendments to existing legislation, and by changing the law to apply to any adult “regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge” of a child.
Ms Champion said: “The risk is particularly high in faith settings, because adults holding positions in faith organisations are automatically seen as having authority, power, and influence, and the opportunity for abuse of that power is significant.”
The report reads: “Section 22 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 describes a person as in a ‘position of trust’ if they are ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of such person’, however this is limited to adults working in the professions listed in Section 21.
“This loophole in the law therefore allows adults who clearly meet the criteria in Section 22, such as a faith leader or sports coach who regularly care for, train, supervise or take sole charge of 16- and 17-year olds, to engage in sexual activity with them with impunity. This leaves young people at risk of grooming and sexual abuse at the hands of adults assigned power and trust.”
It also recommends that the Government should launch a public campaign to ensure that everyone in a position of trust knows of the change in law.
Ms Champion concluded: “There is no reason why the Government should continue to resist. We have faith, sports, and safeguarding organisations all demanding this change in law — now is the time for action, not further excuses or delay.”