Dear Diane Carney,
I just read the article in The Chronicle of the Horse about the new organization, Athletes For Equity in Sport, that you created “to effect equity in SafeSport procedures.” SafeSport is the organization created by Congress to oversee claims of inappropriate conduct, especially involving sexual abuse of minors, within Olympic sports in this country. As the governing body for Olympic equestrian sports, the U.S. Equestrian Federation must comply with SafeSport procedures. (You can read more about SafeSport here and here.)
Diane, it’s clear you feel SafeSport is unfair. To quote you, “It’s problematic when a charge is made, and the alleged accused is thrown out onto the list, and there’s evidence to say this is not correct, and nobody will look at it.” Are you saying that you know for certain that individuals accused of sexual misconduct are in fact innocent of it in all cases? Because I could see a situation in which you might believe—might even have proof—that someone you know (let’s call him George) did not harm a certain child. We’ll call the child John Doe, to preserve confidentiality. What you don’t know is if SafeSport is actually responding to John Doe’s alleged abuse. The identities of the alleged victims are kept confidential. It may be that it’s actually Tom Doe, Dick Doe and Harry Doe accusing George.
It may be that there are dozens of accusers.
And yes, I’m calling the alleged accused George, because let’s face it, everyone thinks that’s who you’re trying to defend. George Morris is an 81-year-old highly decorated Olympic rider, judge, trainer and coach, now permanently banned from any USEF activity due to substantiated accounts of sexual misconduct against minors. He’s also someone you’ve been highly involved with for years. A quick glance at your website shows how entwined your career is with his. George Morris is everywhere listed.
He appealed the ban, and it was upheld. He’s guilty, Diane. And you look like an enabler supporting a pedophile.
Here’s another quote from your article: “But I want to take the club rules out of the process, and I want to take the kangaroo court out of the process, and I want to put it where it belongs if we’re actually going to affect permanently the rest of people’s lives.”
SafeSport can’t take the club rules out of the process: It exists to monitor national governing bodies of sports, which are basically clubs. It’s hard to understand why you’re calling it a “kangaroo court.” Can you explain? I know that some people are upset because they feel that there can’t be a SafeSport ban without criminal charges. They’re wrong to be upset. SafeSport personnel, like teachers and doctors, are mandatory reporters: They must submit their information to law enforcement. Unfortunately, sometimes charges can’t be pressed, and sometimes that has absolutely nothing to do with the available proof of a crime. The statute of limitations varies greatly by state. Sometimes by the time the victim comes forward it’s too late to send the perpetrator to prison. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be banned from their sport.
You talk about things permanently affecting people’s lives. Do you know what really affects people’s lives? Being sexually assaulted. Particularly when they’re children assaulted by someone they trust and admire. It can screw you up for life, Diane.
A little farther down in the interview, you say something similar: “As a member of a national governing body, you’re signing your rights away when you agree to be under the arbitration of SafeSport. Now if we’re talking about the infraction of a rule at a competition, that’s one thing. But if you’re talking about taking [someone’s] livelihood away, that’s a much more serious topic.” First, let’s get one thing straight. EVERY NGO is under the arbitration of SafeSport. There’s no “agreeing” or “disagreeing” to be done. Here’s my question for you: Do you think it’s much more serious for someone to lose their ability to work in a certain field than it is for children to be raped? Because that’s what it sounds like you’re saying.
A teacher in my town was convicted of soliciting sex from one of his middle-school students. He never actually molested her, just tried to arrange to do so. He’s banned from ever teaching again. Are you sorry? Do you think that’s wrong?
Look, George Morris probably has enough money to retire on, but I’m fine if he wants to go work at an IHOP or something. Just nowhere near kids, or with the USEF.
You say, regarding the victims, “… there’s no reason for them to be afraid to come forward and say, ‘This happened to me.’ ” Diane. Are you nuts?
I can give you some reasons. Children often feel responsible for being abused. It causes deep, deep shame, shame made worse by the absolute culture of silence we’ve built up around it, and by the careless comments of ignorant people such as yourself. Children can be easily coerced or threatened; conversely, they can be made to feel special if they allow the abuse. In the ultra-competitive world of high level horse sports, it’s easy to imagine what some abusers might say. “I think you have the talent to go all the way. As long as you stick with me.”
Or you could be more direct, as my abuser was. “Tell anyone,” he said, “and they’ll take you away and put you in foster care. You’ll never see your family again.”
That might not hold water to an adult, but it does a number on you when you’re 5.
Did you know, Diane, that 1 in 5 children in the United States is sexually assaulted before age 18? Did you know that children who are sexually assaulted are 17 times more likely to attempt suicide than those that aren’t? Did you know suicide is currently the second leading cause of death in children aged 10-14 [and 15-24 according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention]?
Diane, you say you want to be sure the victims have some support. You suggest social workers. Can you tell me what you know about the devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse? Can you tell me what sorts of therapy are usually helpful, and how long they take?
Can you tell me the number of victims a typical pedophile assaults before being caught?
Two hundred to 400.
I see that the website of Athletes For Equity features photographs of people competing in many different sports. All of the officers, however, are equestrians. Is anyone involved in Athletes For Equity from another sport? I see that you offer under “Testimonials” a long anonymous account of someone unjustly accused. Can you put any names forward? Can you prove any accusations are unjust? SafeSport seems to have credible investigators. What precisely do you know that they don’t? And if you’re afraid to give details or name names—imagine how that powerless 12-year-old feels, the one you think should be ready to face the public. Including yourself.
Have an experience with SafeSport that you’d like to share, on or off the record? Email Erin at email@example.com
Kimberly Bradley Brubaker wrote this letter in response to an interview the Chronicle conducted with Athletes For Equity In Sport President Diane Carney, and the letter was originally published on her blog: One Blog Now. Brubaker is a New York Times bestselling author and a Newbery Honor award winner. She’s published 17 books including children’s historical novels “The War That Saved My Life” and “The War I Finally Won.” She lives in Bristol, Tennessee, “on a 52-acre farm with an assortment of horses, a dog, and way too many cats.” Brubaker has also been a longtime contributor to the Chronicle forums under the moniker “gully’s pilot.”