Let me make myself unpopular for a minute

Boy oh boy have I been able to do some thinning of my facebook friends this week. I’m just gonna throw this out there, but if your response to someone being set down for sexual misconduct with a child is to petition to have SafeSport disbanded (I do think its kind of funny that people are submitting a petition to the very same government that put SafeSport in place, though. The irony. It kills.), or to blame the victim for not coming forward before now (what makes you think they didn’t?), or to make excuses like “it was a different time” or “it was a long time ago” (newsflash, molesting kids was illegal then too), or to try to give someone a free pass because of “all they’ve done for the sport”, I’m not interested in maintaining a friendship. Maybe that seems harsh, but if you’re a child abuse apologist and sympathizer, then well… that’s all I’ve got to say about that. That’s the only black and white part of all this.

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Whether or not GM actually did it, we don’t know for sure. I’m not here to debate that or spread gossip about who said what when. We aren’t privy to the details, nor are we entitled to them. Guilt or innocence doesn’t even matter for that particular ethics debate. As soon as you start making excuses for child abuse or blaming the victims, we’re done here. I admittedly can’t wrap my head around this “I Stand with George” facebook group either. How can you possibly stand with (or against) a particular person when you have no idea what all the investigation uncovered? That’s not support, that’s blind hero worship, and that’s dangerous. That’s how we got here in the first place. Keep in mind that this was the exact same reaction when Larry Nassar was outed, by the way. If you still haven’t listened to the Believed podcast, I’m starting to feel like it should be a requirement. None of us have any idea what goes on in private, even with our closest friends.

Now, setting aside the ethics debate, if you’ve got SafeSport policy or process concerns, then I 100% get it. There seems to be a lot of confusion out there about SafeSport, how it works, what the process is, what it’s job is, and how it relates to USEF. It is certainly not a perfect system by any means. None is. Look at our exceptionally messy judicial system. But I’m pretty sure if I have to repeat the line “USEF is not the one that made this decision” one more time, my head is just gonna explode. If you don’t even understand which organization does what, much less what they’re doing and how, you should probably do some reading before you comment.

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People also don’t seem to understand the difference between a criminal charge and a private organization’s sanction, and what constitutional rights (or statute of limitations, due process, or burden of proof) apply to which scenario. Please people, do some research. It’s all online. Handy dandy SafeSport flow chart is here. SafeSport Code is here. FAQ’s are here. USEF SafeSport policy and MAAP guidelines (with specifics) are here. SafeSport responses to specific questions and concerns put forth by the horse community are here. That should be enough to get you started. If you want to complain about it, great, no problem, but at least understand what you’re saying.

I know that most people won’t read any of that. They aren’t interested in understanding, they’re interested in reacting. Which… ok, fine. But what I have a major concern with is the industry professionals and trainers who don’t seem to understand any of this, nor seem to want to. Especially the ones that are standing here saying that SafeSport is going to destroy the industry, or that they simply cannot operate their businesses under these impossible constraints.

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I’m gonna be really blunt and unpopular for a second here.

Welcome. To. The. Real. World.

Look, y’all. It is 2019. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, a janitor, a rocket scientist, an IT professional, a cashier at Walmart, or (now) a horse trainer. You can be removed from your job or have your licensing taken away at any time, for any multitude of reasons. My HR department could literally pull me in today and fire me. The sports world has never had an HR department, until now. The best way to avoid losing your job? Learn how to act like a damn professional. Learn how to make your business practices comply with society’s standard of conduct. Other sports are doing it. It’s possible, I promise. Is it a change? Yup. Does it require some restructuring of a lot of programs? Probably. This business has been flying under the radar for a long time, and look what kind of culture we’ve allowed to foster and go unchecked for decades, both towards horses and towards people. Clearly we needed something like SafeSport to police us, since we’ve been unsuccessful at doing it ourselves. The truth is, a lot more big names are going to fall from grace before SafeSport is done cleaning house. There is a very ugly underbelly to our industry, and we’re past due to pay the piper.

It’s bothering the hell out of me to see so many trainers choosing to go after SafeSport rather than seeking to understand it, or seeking to clarify it, or reaching out and asking questions, or, if they’re so compelled, trying to champion SS reform. I get it, people are running scared. The common panicked exclamation is “One client with a grudge and my career is destroyed”. Not true. Unless said claimant can substantiate their claim in such a way that the investigators think that what they’re saying is likely to have occurred, no action will be taken. Furthermore, if said claimant is found to have knowingly filed a false claim, they themselves can be sanctioned. Even furthermore, lifetime bans are reserved for only the most severe of offenses, usually involving sexual misconduct with a minor. You aren’t going to get banned for making a kid do push-ups. Everybody is being a little overdramatic. I have to give a lot of props to Kristin Hardin, she’s one of the few I’ve seen that actually seems to get what’s at stake here.

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SafeSport doesn’t have to be the enemy here unless you want it to be. People might hate that they have to get with the times, or resist change, but the truth is, it’s going to happen anyway whether it’s SafeSport or someone else. There is no going back. Following SafeSport guidelines will actually protect the industry professionals too, if we let it. We live in a pretty litigious society, you would be wise to protect yourself.

Now, if you don’t like something about the SafeSport process – fair enough. There are plenty of holes in any process. Learn it. Get involved. Ask questions. If there need to be changes, find out how reform can happen. But SafeSport isn’t going away, and resisting it isn’t good for any of us. It’s up to us to figure out how to make this work. I also think it’s really important to remember why it exists in the first place. The mission statement: Our mission is to make athlete well-being the centerpiece of our nation’s sports culture. All athletes deserve to participate in sports free from bullying, hazing, sexual misconduct or any form of emotional or physical abuse. 

If you can’t get behind that, you don’t belong in any sport, and especially not in a position of power. Period. Full stop.

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64 thoughts on “Let me make myself unpopular for a minute

  1. I responded to your facebook post, and I still stand by my full support of USEF, SafeSport, and our community throwing every resource we have at people who look to abuse and take advantage of others. When an organization is faced with allegations of the abuse of a minor, they have two options:

    1. Open an investigation. Ban the Individual. Allow for an appeals process.
    Pros? Protects the potential victims. Creates MORE visibility into the process. (i.e. if big names keep appearing on the banned list and then falling off… there would probably be a lot more speculation into who is paying off who)
    Cons? Might spread some negative press for the adult.

    2. Open an investigation. Keep the individuals identity a secret.
    Pros? Protects the alleged abuser. (As you know, false accusations are SUPER rare and SS has a process that helps curtail false accusations from making it past the initial fact finding.) Sooooo by doing this, you are MORE TIMES THAN NOT protected the PREDATOR.
    Cons? Opens up victims to continued abuse. Allows $$$ to talk louder than the victims.

    And yet… people are REALLY ADVOCATING for option TWO. I have a new facebook policy. If you post in support of any alleged abuser, we are no longer friends. Not on facebook. Not in real life. Not at all.

    They might stand with George Morris, but I stand with the victims.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Before I had done my research, I was so against and angry with SafeSport, especially after Gage. Now after all that research, its scary to realize how much people get away with just because they are good trainers or even famous. One of GM’s trainers (Jimmy Williams) did some horrid things, and it all came out and he was banned 2 years after his death. I also think people forget that USEF has no control over the process, once it’s in SafeSports hands, they deliver a verdict and USEF follows. Despite not liking the process of SafeSport sanctions, I now 100% stand with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I do not (and will never) understand people’s confusion over a safesport case and an actual criminal trial. If you get fired from work for stealing shit they don’t file criminal charges and wait for a verdict… they just fire you. Unfortunately as you said, the people who are shouting about this the loudest are the least likely to yanno.. READ. or change their mind due to facts and making logical decisions.

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    1. Yes, they fire you. But…. they better have proof of the alleged stealing. Otherwise, the wrongly accused thief, has every right to take the employer to court over wrongful dismissal. Of course, this would take place in an actual court…. not just an “independent agency”…

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  4. Thank you for this, Amanda. It’s really important for us to bear in mind all the points you’ve laid out so eloquently and reasonably in the midst of the hysteria.
    I’ve been astounded, disappointed and angered by many of the reactions I’ve read and heard too.
    I’m particularly disgusted by the arguments that it doesn’t matter because “it happened 50 years ago!” It DOES matter for so many reasons, especially because child abuse and molestation are self-perpetuating. Another, less well known horseman who became a protégé of GM as a boy is also on the SS list of lifetime bans. As an adult he became not only a trainer like his mentor, but a convicted felon for possession of child pornography.

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    1. And yet, he’s not “permanently ineligible’ like most others…. just “ineligible”. A convicted felon…. through a court of law… is merely “ineligible”. Odd….

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      1. Ineligible means he can’t even be considered for membership. Ever. No investigation has to be done or sanction handed down, because he’s automatically not eligible. Read the SafeSport code, it explains this.

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  5. WELL SAID. I wish I could share the crap out of this without putting my day job on the line, but alas I’ll just say thank you for not only understanding the importance of change, but for doing the research and educating yourself on the matter.

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  6. YES! My stomach was churning reading the FB responses to the ban of GM. With zero information, these people were willing to blindly support him. Or maybe they had a few interactions, and because they had not personally been abused, that was also rock solid evidence that is never happened to another individual.

    As an attorney that defends plenty of professional liability claims, usually physicians before our state’s Board of Medicine, the process is really not that different. Claimant files complaint. Investigation is opened. Respondent has opportunity to submit response (usually written response explanation with medical records as supporting evidence). If BOM is satisfied, they will rule and dismiss case. If not, hearing is held to gather more information. None of this is public. Only the final decision is public.

    Thank you for the most reasonable response to this madness I have seen. It has been disappointing to see folks I admire join the fray with ignorant comments (Robert Dover – looking at you).

    I think this is a “come to Jesus” moment that our sport needs, but man is it painful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting! In Florida, as soon as the Complaint is filed, everything is public and subject to disclosure. I know every state is different in how licensing/administrative issues are litigated. As the prosecutor for a State Board there are times my job would be easier if everything wasn’t public, but in the end, I think it is better if it is. Our system has a lot of steps and takes a while to reach a resolution, but if our Board disciplines someone, you can bet lots of research and investigation was done. If Safe Sport’s investigative process is as thorough as ours is, I’d be quite satisfied with it.

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      1. You do realize, that the person accusing him is on the Florida Sexual Offenders Registry…. righr? Oh…. but he actually went through a court of law, and admitted guilt to a felony charge.

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  7. While I have more to say while I’m not on my phone, this x1000. People only need to have followed the John Coughlin case (figure skating) and how that has unfolded to see that jumping immediately to the accused (I’m not entirely sure that’s the best term since In GM’s case he’s been banned) defense might not be the best idea. Yet even as more victims come out of the woodwork in JC’s case, the victim shaming continues… it’s deplorable. We’re owed NOTHING. We’re not victims so why do we deserve the full story? If a colleague was fired for violating HR policies involving misconduct, we wouldn’t get the full story. Why is this different? It’s not.

    I’m curious if people would change their tune if trainer Joe Smith was banned for life and no one knew him? And the rest of the released info was the same?

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  8. Thank you for writing this post. This hits the nail on the head. I am getting tired of seeing the hashtag #istandforgeorge, coupled with the belief that Safesport is not following innocent until proven guilty. Everything I have read says there has to be evidence, just like in a court proceeding and the ban is not handed down until the person is proven guilty. I admittedly don’t know much about Safesport and I haven’t been a USEF member in years, but I really do not agree with standing by someone who has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be in violation of SafeSport practices. Whether it’s a podunk trainer down the road or George Morris. Speaking of not coming forward for years, this happens in the legal system as well. We currently have a case at work with offenses over 20 years old that are still within the statute of limitations. Coming forward takes courage and a lot of it. I have never been in that situation to need to come forward, so it isn’t fair for me to say someone should have come forward sooner. Or like in the Larry Nassar case, children did come forward and no one believed them for years. It is 100% fair to judge someone when we don’t know the facts or the situation in its entirety.

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    1. FYI…. the “accused” has no opportunity to defend themselves, until after the punishment is decided. The main issue being debated, is the fact that none of this happens in a legal system of any sort. If GM is guilty, then he should be banned. BUT…. he should have a right to defend himself in an actual court of law. Not by an independent agency. That’s the real issue here…

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      1. It doesn’t happen in a legal system because it isn’t a legal matter thats being decided – what’s at stake is whether or not your membership to a private club is rescinded.

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  9. As someone who experienced unwanted sexual advances from a trainer as a teen, I want to thank you for taking this stance. No, I never told anyone, I was too ashamed and part of me didn’t want to believe that a man I had so much admiration for did *that*.
    Measures like SafeSport are important. I can’t believe people are arguing against this after Nassar.

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  10. Thank you for elaborating so clearly the thoughts that have been dashing around my head all week. I, personally, think protecting victims is worth the potential growing pains of adapting to SafeSport policy.

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  11. Whenever I talk about the stuff that goes on in the horse world to non-horse people, they’re usually gobsmacked. My realtor couldn’t believe the shenanigans that sometimes goes along with selling high priced horses, like a trainer inflating the price of a horse to their client so they can get a bigger commission and keep the extra. She has to be licensed and go through continuing education, and she can be investigated at any time if the state licensing board suspects any misconduct.

    I think horse professionals have spent so long being unregulated and unchecked that they’ve fooled themselves into thinking they’re untouchable. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and all that. I think there will be a lot of giants that get toppled before too long, and judging from the things they’ve done, it should have happened a long time ago.

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  12. As a mother, and a sometimes scary one at that, if I ever hear that someone abused my son I would rip them limb from limb and feed it to them. I can never understand a parent not believing their child or hushing it up. I don’t give a flying monkey who the other person is…a trainer, a coach, the fricking President…it makes no difference to me. They would be dead in a very painful and horrific manner.

    I’ve read a lot about complaints against the new SafeSport rules and it leaves me scratching my head every single time. A parent doesn’t want bothered by being including in a text exchange with the coach? Who is that parent? let me have a word with them. I want to be included. Not to helicopter or lawnmower or whatever the new buzz word anti parenting term is these days. I want to know. I want to keep my child safe.

    I spent my youth in a program for white water slalom racing. There was a male and a female coach. We slept in the back of their pick up truck or in tents by the river bank. Girls peed upstream and boys down. We had no cell phones and were in the middle of nowhere. We were in swim suits and changed behind towels. If there was an inclination for abuse, it could have happened. Children look up to adults and a coaching situation where there are often times viable reasons for an adult to help a minor with body position, stretching and posture by putting their hands on their body, can compound potential inappropriate feelings the minor may hold for the coach. We NEED SafeSport. We NEED protection. My parents knew where I was and who I was with. There was always another adult, of my same gender, around. There was never an instance where I was alone with an adult male or in a private exchange without another adult being aware of it all. Maybe not always my parent, but the other coach or another parent.

    These rules are there for the protection of our children so that they can learn, grow and enjoy sport in a safe manner and I can not understand why anyone thinks this is a bad thing.

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  13. This. All. Day. Thank you for putting into words so eloquently what has been seething in the pit of my stomach all week as I read the comments about GM. I have been so disappointed to see how little we have progressed in the support of victims. I would have thought that the horse world being a populated overwhelmingly by girls and women would be more forward thinking on this topic. What a shock to realize they are just as willing to deny the allegations with no evidence just because it’s a BNT. I agree that the horse world has gone along for far too long with no oversight and I am completely in support of Safe Sport doing the job we couldn’t (or apparently wouldn’t) do ourselves.

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  14. THIS! All of what you just said. This should be a required read (links) included before you can even enter a schooling show.

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  15. I don’t know how to say this nicely, so I’ll just say it. Some people are just stupid and mean. I dated a guy for six long years and in that time I experienced a variety of abuse from him. The decisions an abused person makes aren’t always logical. Did it make sense for me to leave every time something happened? Yes. Should I have called the cops? Yes. Did I ever do anything about it? No. And because of that even some of my friends didn’t believe me. I actually had one tell me (quite proudly, I might add) that he had never behaved that way in front of her, he never mistreated her (they had been friends). It was appalling. No shit he didn’t treat you that way. It’s not like they go around wearing a sign that says “hey everyone – I’m an abuser!” If they did, they wouldn’t be able to function in society. *massive eye roll*

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  16. The blind adoration of GM was apparent before his ban, so it’s really not a suprise those who worship his every word would continue to advocate for him during this. Personally, his approach towards coaching people has always come off as off putting, to say the least.

    The thing that bothered me the most was all the articles I read that briefly outlined the ban in the first paragraph and then spent the next three paragraphs vomiting out all of GM’s accomplishments and contributions to the sport. They were spun in such a way as almost to belittle the ban and shine some more sun up GM’s ass. As if his career pardons him, or anyone else for that matter, of any kind of misconduct. It’s twisted.

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  17. When I heard Safe Sport was going to be doing investigations for ALL sports, including equestrians, I was so relieved. I feel that most people say that Safe Sport is “out to get people because omg look at all these reports.” To me, this should actually be an eye-opener to how bad this is in the equestrian world, and just how long this has been left to go on. I hate that “it was so long ago” line that people spout. There is a reason why most states have no statute of limitation for sexual abuse of a minor. I find it ironic when trainers claim they can’t work under these rules – well, if you don’t have anything to hide then you have nothing to worry about! If you truly care for those that work for you or are under your tutelage, it is no hardship to follow these rules at all. I mean seriously.

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  18. I have two major problems with the SafeSport debacle right now.
    The first is smaller. Why are organizations reporting bans for “SafeSport allegations” (a phrase I’ve read on multiple sites). They are *abuse* — sexual, child, physical, emotional — or *assault* allegations (or criminal misconduct involving finances, etc.). Let’s get the language right and do away with this poisoned “SafeSport” euphemism.
    Second, these interim bans are subject to appeal and *known abusers* have gotten through the appeal process. Who is reporting on that? Who is pointing out that “after a lengthy trial and appeal process, X had his/her interim ban removed”? I don’t think that this should be reported on to demonstrate that someone is innocent — no. I think this should be reported on to indicate people who have the money, finances, and clout to get out of their suspensions/bans. Because SafeSport IS a flawed system in this way, and people need to know that too. (I’m happy to provide concrete examples privately if anyone wants them.)

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    1. Hopefully I’m replying to Nicole and not just the bottom of the thread – there is a NYT reporter who published a huge investigative piece on Jimmy William’s and is about to release her year-in-the-making report on GM. If you have information you want out, I would contact her. Her name is Sarah Maslin Nir, she’s an equestrian herself. I follow her on Twitter, you could probably reach her easily there.

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  19. Exactly this. Someone I knew, trusted, and looked up to is on the permanent ban list. This person showed my horse for me, trained me, and was always a wonderful person to me. Never inappropriate. But does that mean this person treated everyone that way? Probably not, given the circumstances. At first I was anti safesport when all of that came down on that trainer. But the more I’ve educated myself (as clearly, I was VERY ignorant initially, I think most of us are/were) the more I realize:
    1. People can have many sides
    2. It doesn’t matter when something happened, it matters that it happened
    3. At the end of the day, the purpose of all of this is to make things safe for us and the next generations.
    Is SafeSport perfect? No. Is it fair to both sides? Maybe not. Not yet anyway. But I think it’s the step in the right direction.

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  20. THANK YOU. 100000000% this. I’m so appalled by people defending him, especially since a) we already knew he was a jerk and b) since the announcement I’ve seen people coming out to talk about their experiences training at his barn. I might be even MORE appalled by professionals who think making athletes safer is a….bad thing??? Ugh.

    Anyway, thank you for writing this.

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  21. You may have lost some friends, but you’ve gained one-me. Long time reader of your blog standing behind you and standing behind survivors of abuse. Keep up the good fight!

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  22. While wading through the Coth thread on this topic, I was wondering if you would weight in. Thank you Amanda for a thoughtful, well written response.

    Being abused (especially as a young person) never, ever stops impacting you. Personal relationships, financial and career success, health – physical and mental. Every single aspect of your future life is altered permanently. Yes I am speaking from experience.

    I think the larger question we MUST start asking ourselves – what I really came away with after this umpteenth news story of trusted adult in position of authority abusing minors with impunity – is how and why we as a society have allowed this abuse to go unchecked for so long. That people would repeatedly go on record defending abusers / molesters is even more astounding to me. That sh*t on Facebook is permanent. It is hard to fathom…

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    1. Completely agree, Calm Foward and Straight. I knew that equestrian sport had a problem, but it seems to be a bigger problem than I realized. Why does this community tolerate the whispers without finding out more? In fact, why do we whisper instead of speaking out, so often? Some unpleasant truths there, I’m sure.

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  23. Fuck YES thank you. so well put. Time for the empire to fall. This shit has gone on for too long, our industry unchecked. People are sick of being silent. Sick of being afraid, of being ashamed, of being gaslighted and manipulated. Time to atone, creeps.

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  24. Yep, yep, yep! I think SafeSport is a great idea and a much needed organization. I do think that it has some PR problems, and not just because of the unpopular backlash it’s gotten, but on clarifying everything. I also think there are some… fundamental changes to the process that should be made (but that’s just my opinion!)

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  25. « The best way to avoid losing your job? Learn how to act like a damn professional. » Amen

    As usual, very well written article, it’s clear and eloquent. Thank you for speaking up.

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  26. Crying right now because this is the first thing I’ve read from someone who has an audience that lays out the facts, understands the issue, and supports victims. I don’t know why the public at large has to be privy to all the ugly facts of the particular case to know that sexually assaulting a child is WRONG and anyone capable of doing that is not someone who should be mentoring children or even other professionals that are responsible for children. What would that help, so they can victim blame with more detail? Anyways, you said everything better than I could. I’m just so, so happy you wrote this.

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  27. Bravo !!! Standing ovation !!! So well said.

    I also don’t understand that some segment of the horse industry public doesn’t understand that these bans aren’t from unsubstantiated claims, or for behavior that most people would term ‘inappropriate’ but not egregious or criminal. That’s not what is happening with SafeSport. The behavior targeted by SafeSport has been destructive in the lives of young people, and it has been shown to be a pattern with that individual. Especially for the lifetime bans. That behavior was never ok, not then, not now.

    There are other heads that may yet roll. There is one key Olympic figure that I know is a shoe waiting to drop. For a time I thought that perhaps the many who could report his behavior must have decided not to do so … but after GM, I’m guessing that it’s just a matter of time, and that the delay is almost certainly due to SS in-depth investigation.

    That such prominent figures are being outed for what they are is not evidence of SafeSport out of control, rather it is evidence of how profoundly we need SafeSport in equestrian sport. Because we have a problem. And it’s much deeper and wider than any of us wants to think. And we’ve had it for a very, very long time.

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  28. The bottom line is… people will do anything to win and be associated with programs that win. They will turn a blind eye to a multitude of things if they can or their child can be a winner.

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  29. I have been growing more and more disgusted by what the industry has become over the past years. One day I will blog about my experience 4 years ago that has me so disgusted. But this is unreal. I cannot believe I am reading posts made by friends of mine that it was 50 years ago and should be let go. What???? I work in the mental health field and with victims of violence and sexual abuse. I had to share the GM saga with co workers for a reality check and to validate that it is truly some bizarro world that equestrians seem to be living in. Thank you for sharing this because so others that DO NOT stand with him don’t feel alone.

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  30. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The stuff I’ve been seeing online is absolutely disgusting. I’m really glad that at least some of the bigger voices in blogland, if not the professional side, are speaking out.

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