On 17th June 2020, I sponsored my friend and former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch’s Private Member’s 10 Minute Rule Bill Sexual Offences (Sports Coaches) which she introduced in the Commons, brought on by the sheer frustration at the lack of progress by the U.K. Government to extend the position of trust legislation to include sports coaches.
Tracey secured a Westminster Hall debate on this very important subject on 4th March this year. She was Sports Minister in November 2016 when the former Crewe Alexandra Football player Andy Woodward waived his anonymity to become the first player to publicly reveal that he was sexually abused as a child by the former coach Barry Bennell.
Others came forward and within a few days the Football Association and the NSPCC had set up a hotline for footballers to report historical child abuse. In the first week nearly 900 people called. Athletes from many other sports spoke out about coercive coaches and managers using and abusing positions of trust. Sporting organisations made internal safeguarding changes to ensure maximum protection and the FA and NSPCC asked the U.K. Government to extend position of trust legislation (Sexual Offences Act 2003) to include sports coaches.
Section 21 of the Sexual Offences Act makes it illegal for certain professions, for example teachers, who are in a position of trust to engage in sexual activity with 16/17 year olds.
There are a number of roles prescribed in the section, but this is not extended to non-statutory settings, which may be subject to less scrutiny, so arguably are more important.
People who have failed disclosure and barring service checks would not be allowed to work with children and vulnerable adults, but the act provides an extra layer of safeguarding to prevent persons in positions of trust forming relationships with children who could be abused because of the imbalance of power in the coaching relationship. And this extra layer of safeguarding should be extended to private tutors, music teachers, and driving instructors too.
The legislation could be amended by adding these to the list or removing the qualification list altogether.
The U.K. Government began a review of this law in 2019, and the Under Secretary of State, Alex Chalk MP, stated in the Westminster Hall debate that they are proceeding with pace and care, and an announcement would be made by the end of May 2020.
The evidence is clear in the number of athletes that have been brave enough to tell their stories and a Freedom of information request by the Guardian found that from 2014-18 there were 653 cases of adults in positions of trust who had sexual relationships with 16/17 year olds and 495 were in sport.
I spoke in Tracey’s Westminster Hall debate and said that as a former national coach for Squash Wales, part of my role was to hold Coaching Courses to increase the number of coaches. There are clear guidelines for Squash that coaches cannot form any sort of relationship with a person under their care, but I do not think this is good enough. If I could have said that it was against the law, it would have been clear cut and definitive. That should be the ruling.
The day after Tracey introduced her Bill, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published new research that shows in some cases coaches and instructors exploited children’s vulnerabilities and the physical contact in sport enables grooming and abuse.
The Truth Project found that of 3939 survivors of sexual abuse, 64 described child sexual abuse in a sporting environment and 58 (91%) were by coaches or volunteers in sports. All perpetrators were adult males, and 39 of the 64 victims were abused at sports clubs. Furthermore, abuse was not confined to elite athletes, but included diverse and grassroots sports. The grooming was step by step, in group or private coaching settings, and included trips away, gifts, in homes, cars, by texts with sexualised comments.
Dr Sophia King, principal researcher for the Inquiry said “not having anyone to disclose to was a sufficient obstacle to children reporting abuse, and feelings of shame, guilt and fear of not being believed.”
The evidence is profound. This must change. The UK Government must close the loophole, because in the eyes of the law, it’s okay to have sex with a 16/17 year old in your trust in sport.
I shall be supporting the Second Reading of Tracey’s Bill on 10th July 2020.