In recent months accounts of sexual misconduct and abuse in equestrian sport have been made public — and the world beyond our horsey bubble is taking notice.
A lengthy article in today’s New York Times, “The Equestrian Coach Who Minted Olympians, and Left a Trail of Child Molestation,” presents on a mainstream platform the abuses of late show jumping trainer Jimmy Williams as first reported by The Chronicle of the Horse in April. A movie that aired on HBO Saturday night, The Tale, starring Laura Dern, is the biopic of writer-director Jennifer Fox, who recounts how at age 13 she was lured into a sexual relationship with a couple that included her riding instructor.
From big names to backyard trainers, time is up for abuse in our sport — and the time is now to take predators to task.
Last year, with the Larry Nassar case underway and the #MeToo movement dominating the news cycle, we here at Nation Media wondered why nobody in the equestrian world was speaking up about our own sport’s secrets. On Dec. 15, 2017 we shared the silence-breaking “#MeToo: A Letter to Myself as a Young Rider,” a personal account of the grooming and sexual abuse of a minor, followed by a call to action.
The Chronicle of The Horse‘s April 4, 2018 issue (see “#MeToo: The Story of a Trainer, a Trophy and an All-Too-Common Betrayal” and “From Survivor To Chef d’Equipe: My Story“) was a game changer — proof that our sport’s culture of silence was changing, and affirmation that no one is above the law.
This opened the floodgates for public discourse, and for other victims to come forward or at least feel less alone. It also spotlighted the need for systemic reform.
The New York Times article takes the United States Equestrian Federation to task for failing to investigate Jimmy Williams’ rumored misconduct; quietly retiring his lifetime achievement trophy; and not banning him from membership until May 14, 2018, nearly 25 years after his death.
But since USEF members began speaking out in the past few months, the USEF has stepped up to respond to the problem of abuse, and aggressively. Since the beginning of the year the governing body has begun a rollout of SafeSport policy and programming reform, and has been proactive in keeping membership informed of its development.
SafeSport, a function of the IOC, polices not just sexual abuse but all types of misconduct and harassment, and all Olympic sports including equestrian fall under its umbrella. In addition to providing training and education, any participant in equestrian sport can report sexual misconduct to SafeSport, and it will be investigated. SafeSport maintains exclusive jurisdiction over sexual misconduct allegations — which means no longer can a national governing body sweep away allegations of sexual abuse.
We applaud the USEF’s proactive approach and commitment to protecting our sports athletes, particularly those who are young and especially vulnerable to abuse. And we appreciate memos like this, emailed today to all USEF members, outlining actions being taken:
Abuse of any kind has absolutely no place in sports. Protecting our athletes is of utmost importance. The US Equestrian Federation (USEF) is complying with all requirements of the U.S. Center for SafeSport (Center) and Federal Law.
Many of our members have asked about our SafeSport Policy and program. The information below addresses these questions and outlines actions taken by USEF to help keep our athletes safe.
- USEF is communicating directly with our members, including the parents of our Junior Members, to provide education and information on Safe Sport including training and resources for parents, participants, coaches, trainers, support teams, officials, and staff to understand when and how to report, and also how to recognize the signs in order to prevent abuse before it occurs. Additionally, our website has a Safe Sport portal which includes these resources, the list of suspended and banned individuals, reporting processes and links to the Center for additional information.
- Since December 1, 2013, USEF has required designated individuals, including but not limited to staff, coaches, technical advisors, and licensed officials, to complete SafeSport training and criminal background checks.
- USEF will issue public notices informing members and the media of individuals involved in equestrian sport that are banned or suspended by the Center or USEF for violations of the SafeSport Code or USEF Safe Sport policy. USEF will remove the names of any individuals from USEF achievement awards and honors. Based on substantial evidence, Jimmy Williams, though deceased, has been banned by USEF for sexual misconduct and his name has been removed from USEF achievement awards and honors.
- USEF has hired additional staff to support our SafeSport training, education, and compliance.
- USEF has submitted all requested information to the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and the law firm of Ropes and Gray, LLC regarding the investigations into the handling of sexual abuse reports in organized sports including the Larry Nassar case.
US Equestrian wants every athlete, parent, coach, groom, support staff, and trainer to know: if you are a victim of abuse or suspect abuse of any kind, there are resources and people to help. Horse sports are a source of strength for so many people and it is incumbent upon all of us who love this amazing sport to protect young athletes.
Link to US Equestrian Safe Sport resources page.
It’s up to all of us — riders, parents, coaches, administrators, ALL participants in equestrian sport — to utilize this critical resource to help protect our young athletes.
We as a sport need to talk, we need to spread the word about SafeSport, and most importantly we need to police ourselves and take action when necessary. Turning a blind eye to abuse in any form never has been and never will be an acceptable response. We all share a collective responsibility to be the voice for victims of abuse.
[Time Is Up: SafeSport Polices Sexual Abuse in Olympic Sports (Feb. 1, 2018]
[USEF President, CEO Issue Direct Address on Sexual Abuse and Misconduct (Feb. 15, 2018)]
[USEF President, CEO Deliver Safe Sport Updates (May 20, 2018)]