New law includes religious settings in ‘positions of trust’

Last Updated on 18 July 2022 by Ann-Marie Nye

The government is extending the law that prevents adults from engaging in sexual relationships with 16 or 17-year-olds, to include adults who work in religious settings.

A maximum of five years imprisonment can be imposed on those who abuse positions of trust.

Although previous legislation, in sections 16 to 19 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 made it illegal for an adult in a position of trust to be involved in sexual activity with a person aged 16 or 17, faith leaders were excluded. The legislation has also been extended to sports coaches.

Following numerous high-profile child sexual abuse cases in religious settings, concerns were raised in Parliament and across wider society. The government has since created Section 22A of the Act, where the term ‘positions of trust offences’ are extended to include an adult who is:

  • coaching
  • teaching
  • training
  • supervising, or
  • instructing in a religious context to a 16 or 17-year-old on a regular basis.

For the Church, this extension acknowledges that adults who supervise or instruct in these environments are particularly influential over a child’s development.

This change in the law recognises that children in religious settings can be subject to manipulation and grooming and aims to reduce this.

It is important to note that an adult will not be in a position of trust where they are participating in the activity with a child infrequently or on one occasion, or where the adult is unaware that they are carrying out an activity that has regular connection with children.

Sharon Barr, United Reformed Church Designated Safeguarding Lead, said: “The United Reformed Church welcomes this development, and we are asking churches to update their policies and procedures.

“We also ask that this message is made clear to those in attendance at churches to ensure that awareness around this issue is raised.

“Churches may also wish to consider what steps can be taken to ensure that all young people are aware of this and of the ways in which disclosures can be made.”

For more information on the change to the law, please see the 2021 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill’s positions of trust factsheet.

Alternatively, please email the Safeguarding team here.