What Constitutes Abuse of Position of Trust?

Individuals in a “position of trust” are people who have been assigned a role involving direct contact with children and young people aged 18 or below.

In this article, the specialists at DPP Law define what constitutes abuse of position of trust, explore the legal process that is triggered once a person is accused of abuse of that position of trust – and what you can do if you believe you may be the subject of false or inaccurate reports of any position of trust offences.

Defining Abuse of Position of Trust

“Abuse of position of trust” refers to any kind of offence wherein an individual over the age of 18 takes predatory advantage of their regular and responsible professional role when interacting with the young people with whom they have contact.

It usually involves sexual offences enacted on minors. This crime is defined within the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which also lays out a non-exhaustive list of job roles that are legally considered a “position of trust”. A more extensive delineation of what is considered a “position of trust” can be found in sections 21 and 22 of the Act – but job roles under this umbrella include:

  • Teachers
  • Coaches
  • Doctors
  • Carers and foster carers
  • Law enforcers
  • Leaders, supervisors and instructors within sporting, religious and recreational contexts

Abuse of Position of Trust Sexual Offences

The legal age of sexual consent stands at 16 years old in the UK. However, in cases where a person in a position of trust is involved in sexual activity, the other party cannot consent unless they are aged 18 or over.

These age limits were changed only recently, during 2022 revisions to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, as they previously reflected the statutory age of consent.

The sexual offences defined in sections 16-19 of the Act as part of an abuse of position of trust charge include:

  • Sexual activity with a child
  • Causing a child to watch a sexual act
  • Sexual activity in the presence of a child
  • Causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity by way of coercion

To read more about what the law says about underage sex in the UK, click here.

In Which Settings Can an Abuse of Position of Trust Occur?

Due to the nature of the roles that are defined as “positions of trust” – many of which are listed above – when crimes of this kind are committed or suspected, typical settings usually include schools and other educational facilities, care homes and foster homes, hospitals, religious buildings, independent clinics and young offenders institutions.

However, in many cases, the trust with which these individuals have been endowed by the nature of their positions is required to extend beyond the premises on which they undertake the majority of their work.

For this reason, it is very possible for abuse of position of trust to take place outside of those locations.

What Can You Do if You Have Been Accused of Abuse of Position of Trust?

If you suspect that you have been – or will soon be – accused of abuse of a position of trust, it is vital that you seek legal representation immediately.

Expert sexual offence solicitors should be your first port of call. Experienced legal specialists of this kind can accompany you to police interviews at every stage of an enquiry, can help you to gather and present evidence to prove your innocence and can defend you in a court of law if the investigation reaches that stage.

The most effective defence that can be presented in cases of this kind involves proving that the accused was unaware that A. the other party was over the age of 18 and/or B. that they themselves were legally considered to be in a position of trust.

Because collecting definitive evidence of these specific circumstances can be extremely challenging, it is vital that you reach out to experienced solicitors as soon as you are aware of any issue of this kind.

What is the Maximum Sentence for Abuse of Position of Trust?

Abuse of a position of trust is an “either way” offence, which means that it may be tried in either the magistrate’s court or the Crown Court, depending on its precise nature and any aggravating or mitigating factors.

While an individual found guilty of this offence may face a community order if the category of harm and level of culpability is found to be comparatively low, with aggravating factors, a perpetrator may face up to five years’ custody.

They may also be entered into the UK government’s Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme (CSODS) database – and can also be struck from certain registers affecting their job role or career, which will deal a significant blow to their future prospects.

The potential penalties of being accused of Abuse of Position of Trust are severe. For that reason, we highly recommend that you reach out to the sexual offence solicitors at DPP Law as soon as you have any information about a potential report or investigation.

Our firm has been in operation for more than 35 years, and we have extensive experience in defending individuals accused of sexual offences. For further details, simply get in touch today.