Many legal systems throughout the world consider crimes committed by a person who is in a position of trust over the victim to be very serious. As such, the perpetrator of the crime often faces a more serious penalty. A position of trust, in legal terms, refers to a situation where one person holds a position of authority over another person and uses that position to his or her advantage to commit a crime or to injury the victim in some way. Liability for abuse of this position is not limited to criminal prosecution, and in some cases, a civil lawsuit may be brought as well.
Legal systems in Europe, Canada, and the United States all recognize crimes that may be aggravated by the existence of a position of trust. There are a variety of crimes that may have a trust element present, such as sexual crimes, financial crimes, and crimes of neglect. As a rule, such a crime is punished more severely than a similar crime by someone not in the same position.
Victims of sexual crimes are particularly susceptible to being victimized when the perpetrator is a person they know and trust. Not surprisingly, it is easier for a person to gain access to a victim when he or she trusts the assailant. By the same token, many financial crimes, such as fraud, are more easily committed when the victim believes that the perpetrator can be trusted with his or her money. Crimes of neglect, such as elderly abuse, are especially prone to be committed by a person who the victim not only knows and trusts but also relies on to care for them.
Aside from actual crimes, civil lawsuits may also be brought on the basis that the defendant injured the plaintiff due, in part, to the fact that the plaintiff knew and trusted the defendant. Professional malpractice lawsuits are a good example of a situation where a victim may be injured either physically, financially, or emotionally by a person who was in a position of trust. Licensed professionals are typically held to a high standard of professional conduct because of their positions. In a civil lawsuit, the defendant does not face jail time but may be held liable and ordered to compensate the plaintiff for his or her injuries.