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Children’s charity claims Government is backtracking on plans to protect teenagers

PUBLISHED: 13:44 10 August 2018 | UPDATED: 14:05 10 August 2018

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, has spoken out against Government backtracking. Picture: Archant Library.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, has spoken out against Government backtracking. Picture: Archant Library.

Archant

A children’s charity has criticised the Government after it appeared to go back on plans to change the law which would protect teenagers from adults working in positions of trust.

It is illegal for teachers, care workers and youth justice staff to have sexual contact with 16- and 17-year-old children under their supervision.

However, since 2012 there have been 1,406 Abuse of Position of Trust offences recorded across England and Wales, with an increase of 51pc over that period.

And in Norfolk, 40 position of trust crimes have been recorded during the same time period.

Despite the national increase, children’s charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said the Government was backtracking on plans to extend laws further and that a loophole in the law means children are not properly protected from adults working in other roles, such as sports coaches, religious leaders and youth workers.

Following an NSPCC campaign, in November last year sports minister Tracey Crouch announced that the then Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Ministry of Justice had agreed that these laws would be extended to sports coaches.

But the Ministry of Justice has written to the NSPCC, which said that it has “made clear” that the Government believed laws on the age of consent and on non-consensual sexual activity provided adequate protection for 16- and 17-year-olds who were preyed upon by adults who supervised them.

The charity’s chief executive Peter Wanless has criticised the Government for this backtracking.

“This change in direction is as disappointing as it is dangerous,” he said.

“It shows a lack of understanding of the nature of grooming whereby young people might feel that they are in a loving relationship, when in fact an adult with considerable power and influence over them is abusing their position of trust for sexual gratification.

“That position of power is not diminished if it exists on the sports pitch, in the mini bus, or in the changing rooms, as opposed to in the classroom. Yet bizarrely the law draws such a distinction.

“How many more hundreds of children will be abused before the Government delivers on its promise made in the House of Commons?”

The NSPCC is calling for the Government to deliver on its promise to extend position of trust laws to sports coaches.

The charity will continue to campaign for laws on positions of trust to be extended to cover all adults defined as working in what is known as ‘regulated activity’. This applies to adults who work regularly with children, and who teach, train, instruct, care for or supervise children, or provide guidance on well-being, or drive a vehicle only for children.

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