It was standing room only during the SafeSport presentation at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Annual Meeting. U.S. Center for SafeSport Chief Officer for Response and Resolution Michael Henry spoke extensively about the process by which the center follows up on reports, conducts investigations and doles out suspensions. Then he took questions from the audience in the meeting, which lasted beyond its allotted two hours. The event was livestreamed and will be archived and available on the USHJA website in the coming days.
Here are a few of the takeaways from the presentation.
1. The U.S. Center for SafeSport has its hands full.
To date the center has received around 4,600 reports—they get around 230 a month—which translates to 4,000 cases (some of the cases get multiple reports). Of those, they’ve resolved 2,800. Of the resolved cases, 800 have resulted in some violation of the SafeSport code. The sanctions range from a formal warning all the way up to permanent ineligibility.
The response and resolution team currently has 20 full-time staff and will double that number by the end of 2020. Right now investigators have as many as 20 cases apiece.
2. SafeSport has highly trained investigators.
Response and resolution staff backgrounds include: social workers, paralegals, Child Protective Services investigators, law enforcement detectives, Federal Bureau of Investigation investigators, Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs), Title IX officers/investigators, Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents, public defenders, prosecutors and judges.
3. Investigators have their work double-checked before their decisions are finalized.
After the investigators draft a report, which can be between 200 and 600 pages, the document goes to an assistant director who reviews it and often requests that the investigator find answers to additional questions before it moves on to another layer of review.
4. The U.S. Equestrian Federation and other national governing bodies aren’t privy to the investigation.
At the end of the investigation process the national governing bodies are notified of the decisions at the same time as the respondents. National governing bodies aren’t informed of who the claimants are.
“That’s intentional,” said Henry. “You shouldn’t have to out yourself publicly. The NGBs are notified that there was a violation and informed of the sanctions so that they can be enforced.”
5. Respondents (i.e. the accused) are notified following significant investigation.
Once a report is submitted, there’s a preliminary inquiry to determine if the center should proceed with a formal investigation. During that process the center contacts the claimants and gathers initial information. Some cases end here if the claimant doesn’t want to proceed or there’s not enough information.
“Once go we go through a formal investigation, formal notice is sent,” said Henry. “You’ll receive notice when we’re to the point that you need to know we have some allegations that you need to know of and respond to.”
6. Temporary measures, like temporary suspensions, are issued rarely.
The center occasionally employs temporary measures against a respondent, like a temporary suspension or a no-contact order, before the investigation is complete. They use a three-pronged analysis to determine whether to enact a temporary measure, looking at the severity of allegations, the sufficiency of evidence, and potential risk of continued unrestricted participation. Temporary measures are levied in 2% of cases.
“We don’t issue those willy nilly,” said Henry. “We understand it affects people’s lives and jobs.”
7. It takes a very serious offense for an individual to be rendered permanently ineligible.
“Only the most egregious forms of misconduct call for permanent ineligibility, for example, digital penetration of an 11-year-old, or multiple counts of forcible sodomy of a 14-year-old,” said Henry. “We don’t put ‘forcible sodomy’ on the website. We say ‘sexual misconduct’ and that it involved minors. That could be a whole range of things. If you see it’s a suspension [next to a determination of sexual misconduct] there’s some mitigation there.”
8. SafeSport may pay for a respondent’s arbitration.
If a respondent elects to go to arbitration that person must pay for it. However the center does have a hardship exemption, and if the respondent doesn’t have the means to pay for it the center will. Also, if the arbitrator overturns the center’s decision, the center pays for the arbitration costs.
9. SafeSport decisions are overwhelmingly upheld in independent arbitration.
Out of over 800 decisions made by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, less than 1% have been overturned in arbitration.
“Reasonable minds can differ,” said Henry. “We use an independent arbitrator. JAMS [the mediation and arbitration service used by the center] has a pool of arbitrators who hear SafeSport matters. We don’t select arbitrators. Everything is conducted externally.
“If we had a 100% win at arbitration you’d be looking at me skeptically, and I would too,” he continued.
10. The U.S. Equestrian Federation is unveiling new communication initiatives regarding SafeSport.
In the wake of much confusion about SafeSport thanks, according to USEF President Bill Moroney, to huge amounts of information being communicated quickly to the public, the USEF hired a communications firm to help disseminate information in a format that’s easier to understand and navigate. The firm interviewed members and based on their findings recommended multiple changes. Starting in late January the USEF will implement multiple new initiatives. They will revamp the SafeSport section of the website and create new resources including short videos about SafeSport. They will create constituent-specific fact sheets. They will launch a new digital awareness campaign, including a “myths v. facts” information sheet. They will hold more town hall-style meetings, including one at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) on Jan. 7 and another at the USEF Annual Meeting on Jan. 8 in Wellington, Florida.
For a full report from the USHJA Annual Meeting check out the January 13 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine.
Have an experience with SafeSport that you’d like to share, on or off the record? Email Erin at email@example.com.