Half of the respondents who said they'd been sexually abuse said it occurred while they were under the age of 18. Yet, 93% of them didn't make a formal complaint. Of those who did, more than 18% said they experienced retaliation.
In July 2021, in response to her own growing awareness and family experiences, Kehring formed We Ride Together, an educational, support and advocacy organization, to help the riding community understand and fight against sexual abuse.
Seven months since its inception, Kehring's effort to support her daughter and other equestrian survivors of sexual abuse and harassment has gone from homegrown and self-funded to a budding nonprofit organization seeking funding to expand its outreach and resources to all sports.
"It hits a variety of sports, a variety of people and a variety of neighborhoods and communities every day," she said. "People just don't talk about the subject. It's taboo. We want people to talk about it and not feel bullied."
Court records show that equestrian trainer Richard Fellers, 62, who competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics, was indicted in Oregon City, Oregon in 2021 on four second-degree sexual abuse felony charges related to Kehring's daughter and is under a lifetime coaching ban by the U.S. Center for SafeSport.
"We wanted to make sure that others don't suffer the way my family had," she said.
We Ride Together offers online educational tools and resources so people can get help, report abuse or learn how to communicate with someone about being abused. There are tips for federations, training schools and coaches on keeping the barn or clubhouse safe and what to say to a survivor. It offers resources to understand the different forms abuse takes. Most of all, it provides help for survivors. It posts the anonymous stories of those who have been abused and public service announcement (PSA) videos by those who have come forward. People just like Kehring's daughter.
In fact, when her daughter went public with her story in a PSA, We Ride Together received hundreds of phone calls, Kehring said.
One of the hardest things for adults to grasp is the relationship between the coach and the victim, leading to a misunderstanding and lack of support for the young survivors, she said.
It's common for the victim to accept physical contact or other kinds of abuse as a tradeoff or as part of the price paid to get benefits from the aggressor, she said.
"The major cases of sexual abuse involve seduction and deception, not force. It's through grooming and coercion," Kehring said.
The tactics can start off slowly and increase over time. The abuser might give the intended victim preferential treatment such as a favorite position on a team or individualized, quality instructional time.
The man who abused Kehring's daughter was an icon of his sport and groomed her daughter for two years. When she stepped forward, some in the community reacted in "utterly horrifying" ways with Facebook posts, Kehring said.
At one point, Kehring nearly lost her daughter to suicide.
"He had a lot of people defending him. We also found that a significant portion of the equestrian community viewed it as an extramarital affair," she said.
Her daughter was 16 years old.
"People were arguing, 'Should his life really be ruined?' That's what started the campaign. We have to unpack this. These attitudes are so off from normal," she said.
The attitudes in the equestrian community that her family experienced aren't any different than in other sports, Kehring stressed. Across the board, many sports federations are recognizing that sexual abuse is a huge problem they don't know how to address.
But "the campaign set a lot of people straight," she said.
After she formed We Ride Together, Kehring saw the tone shift away from hatred of her daughter to understanding that the victim shouldn't be criticized.
The response came from across the globe after her daughter released the video. A woman in Sweden sent her daughter a gift and note thanking her for her courage, Kehring said
The turnaround and embrace of We Ride Together's message give her hope.
"If you can't talk about it, you can't fix it," she said.
Awareness is growing. Congress passed the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 in the aftermath of the widely publicized abuses of Olympic athletes by their former physician, Larry Nasser. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and established the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which develops and enforces policies, procedures and training to prevent abuse and misconduct.
The center also has the power to revoke the permission to coach from those who are accused of, or who engaged in, misconduct. It maintains a centralized disciplinary database of revoked and suspended individuals.
More information about We Ride Together can be found at weridetogether.today. Information about the U.S. Center for SafeSport can be found at uscenterforsafesport.org.
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