Sexual Abuse at the Barn-How You Can Help
I commend The Chronicle of the Horse for the articles in the April 9 & 16, 2018 issue which speak out against sexual abuse in the horse industry. They’ve been doing a terrific job of enlightening us with a number of sensitive subjects in the past year.
The brave women that spoke out in the The Chronicle articles open the public door for awareness to an issue that is more common than any one likes to admit. I hope the stories these women shared will save other young people from the trap laid by sick minds.
We can all agree sexual abuse is not new, and while it’s heart wrenching to read and hear about, I’m happy that a light is being shined on a very dark topic, starting with the horrors some of our Olympic gymnasts have endured.
Can we totally eradicate sexual abuse? Hardly. And we can’t legislate it away either.
But awareness can put a dent in the beast.
Why Does it Happen
“Why” is a topic of epic proportions with very deep roots and I have no intention of digging through the muck in a blog post, but I can give you a comparison.
Think back to high school chemistry class. The child’s love for horses is the culture in a petri dish that you nurture and protect, checking the stages of growth, looking at samples under your microscope, likely resulting in a healthy culture.
But what happens when other bacteria are added? Say it gets contaminated with some cravings—the desire for approval, selfishness, sexual perversion, lack of respect, dominance… any number of appetites not related to the child could fall into your petri dish. How about denial? If the intruders don’t kill off your original culture, a child’s love for horses, the culture most definitely grows into something else. The trick is being aware of what could contaminate your culture, then knowing how to keep the petri dish and the culture separated from the bad element.
Who is Responsible to Stop the Abuse?
We all are.
You. Me. Them.
Maybe you just said, “But it doesn’t happen in my barn.”
That truly is a good thing. Think about this, though. Just because it’s not happening in your barn doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It’s happening in someone’s barn and chances are if you mingle your students with the horse community you’ll eventually cross paths with “that” barn.
And, I’m sorry to say this—it’s not happening in your barn today but what about another day? How well do you know the new employee you hired, or the new client you accepted? Our business and business relationships change daily. I’m not trying to make you paranoid, just hoping to help you understand that we need to be aware.
What to Do?
Find a Quality Program
- Take the time to locate the best possible program you can, whether it’s for riding lessons, or boarding, or a summer camp.
- Research to understand what you are looking for
- Ask for references
- Observe lessons and activities around the barn
- Ask if they require back ground checks for their employees
- Meet the people who will work with and around your child
- Discuss goals with your child and with the Instructor.
- Discuss the program’s goals
Take the Blinders off
- If your child spends any time at the facility without you, ask how their time went and expect more of an answer than “Okay.” Sure teenagers often don’t want to explain their time to parents but a horse crazy kid ought to have something to say. Start asking questions.
- Watch for changes in your child’s attitude, posture and dress.
- Get to know your child’s barn friends. Be friendly with their friends
- Watch interactions at shows.
- Listen to your child-Listen with a heart that is willing to believe them. I’m always amazed when parents are willing to believe a professional they’ve known for a few months or years over the child they raised into double digits.
- Tell them- let them know that there are sexual predators in the world and what to do if they meet one.
- Teach them the difference-There are times in instruction when a person might have to touch your child’s leg, or boost them onto a horse, or help them when they fall. Help your child to determine what constitutes appropriate touching
- Steer clear of instructors who demean your child, use crude examples, or make crude jokes no matter how many trophies their students win. Even if this behavior isn’t rooted in sexual perversion, it subjects your child to bullying.
- Never elevate winning so high that you compromise the well being of your child
- Don’t be absent- the barn is not your baby sitter. Neither is the coach at a show. Unless your child is of age or has early emancipation you are responsible. Keep them safe. Guide them. Give Direction. Address hard issues.
- Choose affiliations such as United States Pony Clubs, that do back ground checks on people in position of authority.
- Be familiar with Safesport.org -The Safesport mission statement: “All athletes deserve to participate in sports free from bullying, hazing, sexual misconduct or any form of emotional or physical abuse.” Visit their site to check disciplinary records, make a report,
- Listen to your students-Peel off the judgmental attitude every morning and throw it in the dirty clothes bin. It doesn’t matter if the child is a drama queen, listen anyway. It doesn’t matter if the child is a flirt or wears crop tops to the barn- kids are naive and finding their way. They don’t really believe they live in a world of predators. Forget that a student is lippy or an air-head. No matter what your predetermined opinion of a child or situation, listen to what they are saying.
- Establish your values-There’s an old proverb that states “Birds of a feather flock together.” Establish your values, what you stand for and don’t compromise. Chances are you’ll attract the right kind of people
- Keep your eyes and ears open-Just like you have a sense for when a horse is off or when your student has arrived with a problem, develop the ability to know what is going on in your facility with students, employees and visitors.
- Vet your employees-Follow through and check references. Consider doing back ground checks.
- Be familiar with Safesport.org – Safesport ‘s mission statement: “All athletes deserve to participate in sports free from bullying, hazing, sexual misconduct or any form of emotional or physical abuse.” Visit their site to check disciplinary records, make a report, or to learn about educational opportunities.
- Be Offensive-Are you willing to go on the offensive against sexual abuse? Why not develop a policy and address the topic with your students. Let them know that your program has a zero tolerance policy and give them the contact information for agencies that are fighting this problem.
A Few More Things
Victims need to feel they can safely tell you there is a problem even before you know they are a victim.
Perpetrators of sexual abuse need to be punished.
Report suspected sexual abuse
If you would like a printable pdf with a basic zero tolerance statement and a list of contacts that you can keep for yourself or hand out to students, click stopabuse and follow the directions on TheRidingInstructor.net.
Thanks for reading. I hope you get the chance to check out The Chronicle’s article.
Here’s to lots of safe and healthy riding lessons,
Barbara Ellin Fox
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