A woman who was manipulated into having sex with her swimming coach when she turned 16 has urged the UK Ministry of Justice to extend the law to protect teenagers from predatory behaviour by those in a position of trust.
Hannah (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) is part of a growing campaign that now includes national sporting bodies, MPs, the network of council safeguarding leads and a 4,420-strong petition in backing the NSPCC’s Close the Loophole campaign.
Currently, it is a crime for teachers, social workers and other professionals legally in a position of trust to engage in sexual activity with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care.
The charity is calling for this law to be extended to also cover adults who could abuse their role, such as sports coaches, faith leaders and driving instructors, to protect teenagers from being preyed upon as soon as they turn 16.
In the letter, Hannah, a determined swimmer, explained how her coach, Jeff, who’s close to her parents’ age, abused his position of power over her.
They spent a lot of time together as she trained eight times a week and he began talking to her more when he knew when she was going through a difficult time at 15.
He became a constant in her life and waited until she was 16, then began to compliment on her appearance and pushed the limits of their relationship, before legally having sex with her.
When things ended with Jeff, she told someone she trusted who made a referral and she was questioned by police but he couldn’t be charged because of the loophole.
“Jeff was always pushing the boundaries but staying on the right side of the line. Initially he would just give me a hug. Then one day he gave me a hug and put his hand on my bottom. Jeff spent a long time making me feel comfortable.
“This was my first sexual experience but when this relationship came tumbling down, I changed with it. I was left feeling really angry, I was a difficult person to be around. It took me a long time to trust friends and family, to let them hug me.”
The campaign was launched after moves to close this legal loophole in the law were paused in the Scottish Government in 2018.
Matt Forde, NSPCC Scotland’s National Head of Service, said: “We know that the overwhelming majority of sports coaches do an excellent job to support young people to develop their talents.
However, there can be no room for complacency and these gaps in our law mean that teenagers are protected from predatory behaviour in the classroom, but not on the sports pitch.
“Our Close the Loophole campaign is demanding that the law is strengthened to ensure that those working in sport – and indeed other regulated roles – are held to the same high standards we should expect from all professions where adults are in a position of trust over children and young people.”
MPs, including Sarah Champion and Christina Rees, have added their voices to the campaign, while MP Tracey Crouch has been a long-standing supporter for a change in the law. An NSPCC petition was signed by 4,420 people in just two weeks.
Netball Scotland, British Gymnastics and British Athletics also support the charity’s calls to action.
Jessica Mawer, Marketing Manager at Netball Scotland, said: “We are proud to support this hugely important campaign to #CloseTheLoophole.
“As a National Governing Body, safeguarding is a key priority for us, and we back our partner NSPCC’s plea in order to protect young people from abuse in the future.”
Mike Harrison, British Gymnastics Safeguarding Manager, said: “We fully support the NSPCC Close the Loophole campaign and we believe that the change is needed now.
“It is hugely important that the legislation includes sports coaches so that no coach is able to inappropriately influence any athletes. Closing the loophole would greatly enhance the protection afforded to all young people who enjoy sport”
David Brown, UK Athletics Welfare Officer, said: “We are proud to support the #CloseTheLoophole campaign which we have been engaged with since it began.
“The Welfare team at UKA has been working closely with the NSPCC and other sports NGBs to contribute to this milestone, and we look forward to continuing that work moving ahead.”