Disability Action is the largest pan-disability organisation in the UK and Ireland. We have worked with d/Deaf and disabled people, Disabled People’s Organisations (DPO’s), and Civic Society Organisations (CSOs) across the region in the development of this report.  This report has been compiled by d/Deaf and disabled people.

  • Disability Action remains supportive of the efforts of the former Justice Minister and Department of Justice in bringing forward the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 to which this consultation refers.
  • Disability Action welcomes the addition of religious and sporting settings to the abuse of position of trust provision.
  • Disability Action requests additional clarity on the definitions of the proposed additional settings, as well as the extension of the provision to cover additional settings.

Disabled children and young people are more likely to experience violence and abuse than their non-disabled counterparts[1]Studies demonstrate that disabled children are 3.8 times more likely to be neglected or physically abused, 3.1 times more likely to be sexually abused and 3.9 times more likely to be emotionally abused. In fact, findings show that 31% of disabled children suffer abuse compared with 9% of the non-disabled child population[2]. Further to this, disabled children are also at a higher risk of experiencing multiple types of abuse, enduring multiple episodes of abuse, and abuse by multiple perpetrators[3]

Under the legislation, ‘sport’ is defined as including ‘any game in which physical skill is the predominant factor’ or ‘any form of physical recreation which is also engaged in for purposes of competition or display.’ Settings are not clearly defined- clarity is required as to whether the legislation extends to gyms, fitness classes and personal trainers. The current legislation excludes a range of other extracurricular activities, including drama, music, youth activities and private tuition. Disability Action believes that adults working in a position of trust to disabled young people in the non-statutory sector can have substantial influence and power over young people in their care, and some can abuse their position, regardless of the setting within which they operate. There is no distinction between the imbalance of power and the relationship of dependency young people have with adults in a position of trust to them in settings covered by the legislation and those that are not. Activities such as dance, drama and musical tuition are provided by many organisations in the private and voluntary sectors and not covered in the abuse of trust offences. In recent years, there have been cases of private tutors using their role as an enabler to carry out child sexual abuse. A recent case in Northern Ireland saw a person who was advertising tuition services, despite already having a sexual offences prevention order in place.[4] [5] Private tutors are in a position of trust when working with children and young people. Despite evidence that there are cases in which a private tutor has used their position to gain access to and sexually abuse children and young people,[6] they are not covered by the current law in Northern Ireland.

Leaders and youth workers in other areas such as drama and theatre clubs are not currently covered by the law in Northern Ireland yet are in positions of trust to young people where abuse could occur. A recent case in England highlighted how a drama tutor used his position to sexually abuse young people aged 15–19 years olds, who were led to believe that what had happened to them was to further their acting careers.[7] In this instance, the case only came to light months to years after the abuse took place as the young people mentioned what had happened to family, friends or other professionals. It should not be the situation that children and young people only have protection after the abuse has happened.

Under the legislation, ‘religion’ is defined as including ‘a religion which involves belief in more than one god’ or ‘a religion which does not involve belief in a god.’ This is a valuable clarification, and means that sufficient protection should be extended to all. There are examples of children or young people who have been abused within the youth sector by youth workers. Youth Initiatives founder Jamie Treadwell, who was recently convicted of sexually abusing a child, led an internal investigation into a fellow youth worker within the youth organisation who had been reported as having ‘inappropriate relationships’ with some of the young people.[8]  Furthermore, in 2015 another former youth worker was found guilty by a jury on counts of indecent assault and gross indecency with a child.[9] During this particular case character evidence from another victim was used. This victim claimed that the youth worker sexually abused him as a ten-year-old boy while on a weekend trip with a youth club.[10]

Disability Action case work includes cases in which disabled young people have been abused in sport, youth and drama settings.

Case Study

A young woman with autism participating research conducted by Disability Action provided a disturbing account of lifelong abuse and exploitation.  This included being encouraged by a parent to take a dog for a walk with men who abused her.  Her mother encouraged her to meet men through church and clubs that the young woman was engaged in.  The young woman had nowhere to turn to for help or support.  She reported the abuse and was not taken seriously by authorities.  The content provided by the young woman in this case study was so disturbing that it has yet to be fully published due to the need to carefully plan and process.

Disability Action recommend:

  • Widening the definition to include gyms, physical activity, exercise classes, one to one training, youth work, drama and one to one tuition.
  • Clarification of the statutory settings set out in Article 28 to explicitly include spaces where a child or young person may fall between the status of a student or an employee, such as volunteer spaces, apprenticeships and mentoring programmes.

With regards to additional environments not currently covered, the relevant Act provides that a person is in a ‘position of trust’ if they are ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of such persons,’ within the statutory settings set out in Article 28. This would benefit from clarification so as to cover the widest range of cases possible, including mentorships, apprenticeships, and volunteer spaces and organisations where an individual may not be protected as an employee or as a student, but who may nonetheless be meaningfully said to be receiving training or supervision that would put the trainer, mentor, organiser or supervisor in a position of trust.

Article 28 part 4 reads:

(4) This paragraph applies if A looks after persons under 18 who are accommodated and cared for in one of the following institutions—

(a) a hospital,
(b) an independent clinic,
(c) a residential care home or private hospital,
(d) a voluntary home or children's home, or
(e) a residential family centre,

and B is accommodated and cared for in that institution.

While entirely supporting the provisions of this clause, we would suggest that this be expanded to cover patients at the named facilities and services who are not resident in the care of the service. Medical professionals and care professionals can still have - and therefore still abuse - a position of trust in relation to their patients. The fact that some of these patients will be occasionally not fully conscious, and often unsure of the boundaries of acceptable touching in certain contexts, makes this a simple but important addition. Outpatients can also experience inappropriate behaviour, and should not be excluded from this provision, as the relationship between them and the medical professional is the same. For this reason we also propose adding dental surgeries explicitly, in case that is not included in the definition of “independent clinic”, which should include any situation in which a person received medical treatment from a licensed professional.

Disability Action recommend:

  • Including non-residential medical settings and dental provision explicitly in Article 28, as set out above.

Article 30 states, as follows:

Conduct by a person (A) which would otherwise be an offence under any of Articles 23 to 26 against another person (B) is not an offence under that Article if at the time—

(a) B is 16 or over, and
(b) A and B are lawfully married or civil partners of each other

This clause should be considered in the context of coercive and controlling.  Consideration should be given to the fact that young people who are old enough to legally consent may still be vulnerable to relationships that began due to the undue influence of the position of trust that one party had over the other.  Disability Action therefore recommend that this clause is removed. 

Article 31 states: Conduct by a person (A) which would otherwise be an offence under any of Articles 23 to 26 against another person (B) is not an offence under that Article if, immediately before the position of trust arose, a sexual relationship existed between A and B.

It is quite feasible that a sexual relationship may be entered into as a condition of a certain position of trust (for example, used against a sporting hopeful, or used against a person hopeful of an educational opportunity, with the promise of those opportunities withheld unless the young person enters a sexual relationship) and as such, while it may precede the formal establishment of the position of trust, the promise of what such a relationship could offer was weaponised against a young person. Disability Action recommend that this clause is removed.

For further information contact Nuala Toman, Head of Policy at [email protected]


[1]  Jones, L. et al (2012) Prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/mar/17/almost-a-third-of-disabled-children-and-teenagers-face-abuse-global-study-finds

[3] Sullivan, P. M., & Knutson, J. F. (2000). Maltreatment and Disabilities: A Population-Based Epidemiological Study. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 1257-1273.

[4] Former school science technician warned he faces return to jail if he breaches orders for sex crimes - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

[5] NI school tutor accused of flouting sexual offences prevention order facing more charges, court told - Belfast Live

[6] Tooting maths tutor jailed for sexually abusing three of his students | Wandsworth Times (wandsworthguardian.co.uk)

[7] Drama group founder convicted of multiple sexual assaults | Northamptonshire Police (northants.police.uk)

[8]  Paedophile youth worker ‘turned a blind eye to predator at Belfast charity’ - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

[9] Youth leader fails to overturn sex abuse conviction | Belfast News Letter

[10] Youth leader fails to overturn sex abuse conviction | Belfast News Letter