MP SARAH Champion has set her sights on closing a legal loophole leaving children at risk of sexual abuse.
Leading a parliamentary debate, the CSE campaigner said she aimed to highlight the fact that predators working in positions of trust with children aged 16 and 17 can escape prosecution under the current law.
The 2003 Sexual Offences Act currently prohibits individuals in some defined roles, such as teachers or social workers, from exploiting their position, but the list does not include other adults with similar influence, such as sports coaches or faith leaders, leaving children in non-statutory settings vulnerable to abuse.
In 2019, the Ministry of Justice conducted a review into the law and stated they should be able to announce next steps last May but no announcement was forthcoming.
Ms Champion in last Wednesday’s Common debate, said: “Parents are right to expect the same legal protections sending their child to a youth centre or religious group as they would sending them to school.
“The Government must act to close a legal loophole that allows adults in positions of trust outside of a statutory setting to get away with abusing teenagers.
“Protecting children and young people from harm should be one of the Government’s top priorities.
“It’s clear from my work with survivors and child protection specialists that robust legislation needs to be in place to tackle the abhorrent abuse happening right now.
“I’ve repeatedly made it clear that this legal loophole allows abusers to act with impunity.
“If the Government is serious about showing zero tolerance to child abuse, they must act to change the law.”
Figures obtained by the NSPCC showed that between 2014 and 2018, there was a total of 653 recorded cases in which adults in a position of trust had had a sexual relationship with a child of 16 or 17 in their care.
Ms Champion said she was hopeful of forcing a change in the law, adding: “West Midlands Police have just got in touch with me, knowing I had the debate, and for police officers they were not covered by it — so a police officer investigating CSE could have a sexual relationship with the witness.
“There are a number of bits of legislation coming forward where I think the government could adopt this and we’ve now got the home secretary saying it’s a good idea.
“It’s literally only the Ministry of Justice that’s digging its heels in so I’m trying to put enough pressure on them that they just do it because it’s a no brainer — why wouldn’t you make all people in positions of trust over children unable to have sex with them?”
Alex Chalk, under-secretary of state for justice, said: “We are continuing to look at how the law might be strengthened in this area, and I hope to set out our plans very shortly.”
He said it was important not to be seen to raising the age of consent by stealth but most of those consulted under a review of current legislation agreed a change in the law was needed.
“It was made clear during the review that any legislative changes would need to be bolstered by changes outside the criminal law in order to ensure an effective overall approach to safeguarding young people,” Mr Chalk added.