What is Abuse of Trust?

Sexual offences legislation already provides that any sexual activity involving children under 16 is unlawful. The primary motivation for legislation which addresses the abuse of positions of trust is the need to protect young people aged 16 and 17 who, despite reaching the age of consent for sexual activity, are considered to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation, in defined circumstances. This includes sexual activity and relationships with adults who hold a position of trust, responsibility or authority in relation to them and, as a result, have a considerable amount of power and influence in their lives. The law defines specific roles and settings where sexual activity between 16 and 17 year olds and those in positions of trust, responsibility or authority constitutes a criminal offence.

Examples of specific roles:

Examples of specific settings

People in these roles or working in such settings may well be in positions of trust, will normally have power and authority in a young person’s life, and may have a key influence on their future. They will have regular contact with the young person, and may be acting in loco parentis.


The legislation does not include sports roles (e.g. coaches, instructors or helpers) or sports organisations and settings (e.g. clubs, leisure facilities or events) within these definitions. Thus, at present, an abuse of a position of trust within most sport contexts will not be illegal, although there may be circumstances in which the law does apply to sports coaches: for example if they are employed by and operating within a school.

The view of the CPSU is that because of the vulnerability of young people and the particular circumstances of sport that the legislation should be extended to roles and settings within sports. Irrespective of this, NSPCC/CPSU recommends that sports bodies work to the principles behind the legislation. They should put in place codes of ethics and conduct to which individuals are tied, which define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and which clearly include any abuse of positions of trust as described above. Breaches of these codes should be addressed through complaints and disciplinary procedures.

It is important also to recognise that under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act/Order there are already relevant provisions to consider. Sports settings are regulated activity for the purposes of the legislation, and individuals considered to represent a risk to, or who have harmed a young person could be referred to the Independent Safeguarding Authority and may ultimately be barred from working with children. Our Sport considers that disciplinary action should be taken in situations where an adult in a position of authority has abused their position of trust by having sexual contact with a 16 or 17 year old.

Those in authority in sport can have substantial influence over young people dependent on the nature of the activity. In situations where young people are training within competitive sports it is not unusual for young people to train three, four or more times per week. It was evident from studies done in sport that in cases of serious sexual assault there had been a significant process of grooming leading to the abuse. In all the cases studied, the coach concerned had abused the position of trust vested in him through his role.

Recommendations for sports organisations

Recommendations for sports coaches and others in positions of trust

Advice for anyone concerned about the possible abuse of a position of trust

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