Abuse of position of trust and sexual offences

The Channel 5 drama “The Teacher” explores sexual abuse in the context of the teacher/pupil relationship, sparking a renewed public interest in the abuse of position of trust crimes. Furthermore, the launch of the anonymous survivor website Everyone’s Invited has highlighted a large number of potential cases of alleged sexual abuse in schools across the UK. 

The overwhelming response to the website has prompted OFSTED into launching a review of the procedures designed to safeguard children from sexual abuse at school. Cases that arise in the school setting are naturally of great public interest, and for those wrongly accused, the impact can be devastating. This article provides a brief introduction to the law on abuse of a position of trust and what to do if you have been accused of such an offence. 

Abuse of a position of trust and the law

The law on sexual offences that may be committed by those in a position of trust is set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The Act applies to all children under the age of 18, but it is specifically designed to protect 16-17-year-olds, as they are over the age of consent but are considered vulnerable to sexual abuse by people in a position of trust. While the age of consent for sexual activity is 16, this rises to 18 when the sexual activity involves a person in a position of trust. 

If the child is aged under 16, they cannot give consent, and any offences committed would fall within the scope of ss. 9-13 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. 

In what roles and settings can an abuse of a position of trust occur? 

Under the 2003 Act, specific roles and settings are provided, setting out under which circumstances sexual activity between a child aged under 18 and a person in a position of trust will amount to a criminal offence. This includes: 


  • teachers
  • social workers
  • doctors
  • foster carers
  • police officers


  • educational institutions
  • hospitals
  • foster homes
  • residential care homes
  • young offenders institutions
  • independent clinics

I have been accused of an abuse of a position of trust offence, what can I do? 

If you have been accused of committing an offence and you are in a position of trust, it is essential to seek specialist legal advice right away. The earlier you contact a sexual offences defence lawyer, the more opportunity they have to protect you and your reputation. 

When the child is under 18 at the time of the alleged incident, the burden is on the accused to provide sufficient evidence to prove that they reasonably believed the child to be aged 18 or over at the time of the incident. This is, of course, challenging in a school setting. 

It is also presumed that the accused knew that they were in a position of trust, and as such, they must provide sufficient evidence to prove that they were unaware that they were in a position of trust as part of the defence. 

There is also an exception to the law under s.24, which sets out that any activity that would otherwise be an offence under ss. 16-19, will not amount to an offence if it takes place in the context of a sexual relationship that existed before the position of trust was established between the parties. This means that if you entered into a sexual relationship with a person aged 17 (over the age of consent) but then later became their teacher, you would not be subject to the abuse of a position of trust rules. 

Abuse of a position of trust is a highly complicated and specialist area of law. For expert advice, contact sexual offences defence lawyer Stuart Sutton on 07798 753720 today.

Photo from PxHere.