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How Might The SafeSport Policies Impact You And Your Barn?

The Equine World is closely watching as the new SafeSport Policies (hereinafter "The Policy") are being implemented. Many coaches and participants wonder what impact these new policies will have on trainer/rider relationships; or relationships between any adult member of the USEF and members under the age of 18. Further, the Policy has a far-reaching effect on social media and "electronic communications" between adult and minor participants. Some of these changes are unclear how they will be implemented, leaving many with more questions than answers. What follows are a few considerations participants should keep in mind as the new Policy is implemented.

Duty To Report Suspected Child Abuse

The overriding concern of the Policy is an attempt to stop abuse of minors by predatory participants in the sport. The concerns are on the forefront of everyone's consciousness after the sexual abuses in the gymnastic world were brought to light.

One of the issues that was identified in other abuse scenarios was the fact that coaches and participants with knowledge of the ongoing abuse were not required by law to report the suspected abuse. The SafeSport Policy attempts to change that. Participants in the USEF (members, coaches, trainers) are now required to report suspected child abuse, including sexual abuse, to law enforcement. Additionally, suspected sexual misconduct must be reported to the U.S. Center for SafeSport (the Center). This can be done by a simple phone call to (720) 524-5640.

This change is really a commonsense approach to ensuring those who witness predatory activity are compelled to report the behavior to authorities. It is unlikely that this Policy will have a huge impact on the everyday riding experience of the membership, except to give those who witness improper conduct an avenue to report the behavior.

One on One Interactions

SafeSport has identified the "One on One" interaction between an Adult Member and a minor as being an unmitigated risk. In an attempt to curtail this risk, The Policy now prohibits any one-on-one interaction between an Adult Member and minor, with certain exceptions. These exceptions include:

- One-on-one interactions are permitted where the interaction is "observable and interruptible." This means that the interaction is permitted where it occurs in an observable area and another adult is present who is able to "interrupt" the activity, if needed.

- Or, if the interaction is considered to be an "Individual training session" and the adult has obtained a written waiver from the minor's parent or legal guardian. Note: These waivers are only valid for 6 months and must be renewed thereafter.

Please be aware that the "waiver" is only permitted in the event of an "individual training session." While The Policy does not clearly define the term, it may include formal lessons, or instruction on bathing, treating, or otherwise caring for the horse and/or its equipment. The Adult Member should be mindful of what activities are generally recognized in the industry as "training" and limit interaction with the minor student to those activities when operating under a waiver.

Physical Contact with Minor

Much consternation has been expressed over the "Best Practices for Observable and Interruptible" section of The Policy. This section includes the recommendation that "If physical contact is required (adjusting a riding position) the athlete's permission must be sought and the contact should be in full view of others." Many have interpreted this section to mean that a coach/trainer may not have any contact with a minor athlete, at all. It is doubtful this is what this section intends.

It must be recognized that this language is included in the "best practices" section. It is not included as a section of the policy. However, it is always important to have the consent of anyone before any physical contact it initiated, when practicable. (Note: an emergency exception exists where immediate action is required). But the well-informed Adult must take note of the "Consent" definition under Section III, Definitions. This portion states:

f. Consent - Consent is (a) informed (knowing), (b) voluntary (freely given), (c) active (not passive). Consent must be demonstrated by clear words or actions...

In consideration of this definition, it may be possible for an Adult to obtain consent from a rider through "words or actions." Consider giving the minor rider a "leg up" as they mount the horse. The minor lifting their leg to receive the "leg up" could very well be interpreted as an "informed, freely given, active" form of consent. The interpretation of whether consent was given may rest heavily on the surrounding circumstances, the relationship between the minor and the adult, as well as other factors that could be brought into consideration.

Travel/Hotel Stay

The Policy now prohibits an Adult Member from traveling alone with an underaged member. This includes "team travel," or any other type of transportation situation. Again, The Policy does permit the legal guardian to provide a waiver for travel. However, this waiver must be completed before each trip. Having a waiver on file for 6 months (as permitted for one-on-one interactions) is not permitted.

The Policy makes the same restriction with overnight accommodations. Adult Members may not stay alone with Minor Members without first obtaining a waiver from the parent/guardian of the minor. Again, the waiver must be obtained each and every time an overnight occurs. The 6-month waiver is ineffective in this situation.

Social Media & Electronic Communications

This may be the area of The Policy that is causing the greatest uproar. The Policy now prohibits the Adult Member from having direct, one-on-one communication with the Minor Member. The Policy prohibits:

- Direct e-mail or electronic messaging of a minor by an Adult Member, in any capacity. This includes popular social media applications like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other program that permits direct, exclusive communication between the Adult Member and minor. E-mail text messaging are included in this category as well.

- It is unclear if telephone communications are included in "Electronic Communication" at this point. The Policy does not enumerate telephone communication on the list. Hopefully clarification in this area is provided shortly.

The Policy does not allow for a waiver in the area of Social Media & Electronic Communications. Therefore, this portion of The Policy is strictly enforced. The Adult Member should consider including the parent in all communications to the minor athlete.

Summary

The Policy does include several other changes that could impact a member of the USEF. As with membership in any organization, it is important to read and adhere to the applicable policy in its entirety before engaging in the sport.

As for this Policy, participants should explore the options of obtaining waivers where permitted. There are many situations where a coach/trainer or other Adult Member may find themselves alone with a minor participant, intentionally or unintentionally. Violations of the Policy can dramatically impact a participant's membership status. Having a waiver on file could be a simple way to remain in compliance with The Policy and in good standing in the sport.

As always, MPM works hard to remain a resource for equine participants and property owners. Please feel free to contact Attorney Jonathan J. Paasch at [email protected] for more information on waivers and liability mitigation.

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