A Yorkshire MP is campaigning for a change in the law to protect young people from grooming and sexual abuse in religious settings.
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion is leading cross-party MPs and faith groups in a call to change the law to protect 16 and 17-year-olds from sexual abuse in faith settings.
She wants the Government to close the loophole in the law that allows adults in "positions of trust" to legally engage in sexual activity with young people they are working with.
Under current legislation, only certain job roles are designated as a ‘position of trust’ under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, including teachers and youth justice workers. As a result, it is against the law for them to engage in sexual activity with the 16 or 17-year-olds that they supervise.
However, adults working in other settings, such as faith organisations or sports clubs, do not commit a crime if engage in sexual activity with children aged 16 or 17 under their supervision, even though adults in these positions often hold significant power and influence over the child. This means that in non-statutory settings children are unnecessarily left more vulnerable to abuse.
Ms Champion 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.
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"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.
"It is not appropriate for an adult who has responsibility for supervising a child to engage in sexual activity with them and the law must be changed to recognise this.”
The report, released today, calls for the Government to make a simple change in the law so that the definition of a ‘position of trust’ applies to any adult who is ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of such a person'.
Ms Champion said: "This issue can be easily remedied by a simple change in the law.
"A definition of ‘position of trust is already there in Section 22 in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The Government simply needs to apply it to every adult who holds supervising responsibility for a child they are working with and not limit it to a few professions.
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"This will bring clarity and help to prevent abusers from exploiting the system to groom and abuse children.
"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.”
The call to change the law comes with the full backing of many of the major church groups represented in the UK, including: The Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, the United Reformed Church and others.
A change in law is also supported by the NSPCC, and a number of professional safeguarding bodies and academics.
A Government spokesman said: “Abuse of power is an abhorrent crime which rightly carries tough sentences - including life imprisonment.
“We have reviewed the law around abuse of power and sexual activity and will set out our plans in due course.”