Over the last year, so much attention has been fixed on the United States Equestrian Federation (“USEF”) Safe Sport policies and their consequences. These USEF policies and U.S. Center for SafeSport Code are aimed at protecting all participants in our sport, yet recent heated dialogue over the reporting misconduct mechanism has stirred all types of reactions from placid acceptance to vehement rejection of the program as a whole. Some feel the regulations are so strict that they unnecessarily restrict teamwork and collegiality of the sport, while others roll off impassioned diatribes that the regulations do not go far enough to rectify previous wrongs.
Many of you have trainers, friends, fellow competitors who have been accused of misconduct under the SafeSport reporting provisions. The indignation brewing on social media and running rampant through the horse show rumor mill is loud and powerful. In many cases, pushback to regulations buoys a groupthink type nostalgia for the ‘old days’ while belittling the very voices we are seeking to protect.
If we are to compete in and sustain an industry together, we must create a healthy dialogue. A dialogue that both serves a community of women and men who were, and may still be, subjects of unwanted sexual misconduct and also one that stimulates productive feedback for the changes as they continue to take shape in the sport.
For SafeSport to have a chance, athletes need to believe in its influence. Otherwise we will run into the same issues that plague law enforcement, child services, Title IX officers, and human resources departments: victims who avoid reporting to enforcement offices that they view prioritize the reputations of the institutions over the individual athletes.
It is not surprising that in the few months following the mandatory online training, USEF is functioning like an underfunded and overworked DA’s office, that it may employ people who are under-qualified, or that it has been heavily influenced by people who appear to care more about the image of USEF and preventing lawsuits than protecting children. But, you could easily adopt the same cynicism when looking at numerous child welfare agencies currently active across the country.
This cynicism, when coupled with a collective resignation that SafeSport is useless, is self-serving to those who refuse to accept the industry needs to change. Transparency, funding and education are all positive components to this movement to create a safer sport, even if the road gets a bit bumpy. We, as a culture, are in the thick of one of the most transformative times for sexual harassment protections, every industry is feeling the impact of these changes. As a sport with hundreds of confirmed cases of child molestation in its history, we cannot stand on a soapbox and decry regulations that are necessary (and mandated) to protect rising equestrian youths.
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