The coach who sexually abused my daughter pled guilty to criminal charges last week. How do I feel? 

It’s complicated.

For the past three years I’ve had to shut my emotions off. I speak to so many parents whose families have gone through similar situations. They all say the same thing: by the time they get any resolution (and so many don’t)—be it a criminal, civil or SafeSport ruling—they’ve been emotionally numb for so long, they don’t even know how to feel anymore.

As a parent, it’s the only way you can get through it. Watching your child come through an abuse situation is, in most cases, years of nobody being “ok.” It takes every ounce of energy a family has to come to terms with what has occurred, find the help and support a victim and their family needs, and cope with the re-lived trauma of navigating the legal system—all of it done while barely holding it together.

But frequently, the straw that breaks the very fragile rebuilding effort is the victim shaming and blaming.

As a mom, reading the comments on news articles and social media posts when my daughter’s abuser was suspended from our sport was beyond horrifying. The hate that was lobbied at a then high school student by adults in our community was truly stunning. I lost count of the number of direct messages she received calling her a liar and telling her she was ruining his life and marriage.

And this isn’t an isolated incident. Take a dive into the comments of similar situations and you’ll see the same reactions. One recent case in our sport involved a 14-year-old girl who brought a civil case against a man she said drugged and raped her. The vitriol that was spewed online from leaders and athletes in our sport toward this child is something that should greatly concern us all.

Studies show that around 96% of children who say they were sexually abused are telling the truth. Let that stat sink in, around 96%.

When victims are shamed, blamed or doubted, it makes their recovery so much harder—in some cases, it drives them to desperate measures, like self harm. Others give up on pursuing justice entirely because the process is simply too painful.

Because I’ve founded #WeRideTogether, an organization that is working to eliminate sexual misconduct in sports, I can’t come across as angry when discussing these issues. An angry woman scares people away from a problem that so desperately needs to be addressed. My tone has to be soft, balanced, and unemotional or people shut down. 

For me, that’s been the hardest part. Because I am angry. How could anyone in my position not be? I hear story after horrifying story of grooming, abuse, assault and molestation of children and young adults in our sport and then watch the fallout for them on social media and I want to shout about it at the top of my voice.

Regardless of my personal feelings, what is clear is that we have to fix this problem. 

Addressing sexual misconduct in sports takes time. It is a gradual process that requires acknowledging the problem, removing the stigma of talking about it, and embracing measures that will help prevent unhealthy relationships from developing in the first place. 

What doesn’t need to take any time at all, however, is an immediate stop to the victim blaming and shaming. It’s critical that there is an immediate stop to that.

I hope that anyone inclined to post a comment on social media pauses for a moment to consider the impact their words will have on the victims and their friends and families. If we collectively put all our energy towards prevention, we could avoid the messy aftermath of abuse altogether and create the healthiest sport for all of our members, especially the children growing up in our barns.

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