If you are sitting at home trying to decide whether it is safe to go back to dog shows, or if you are a club member trying to salvage an event, you are likely looking to the American Kennel Club for leadership.
In the midst of so much uncertainty, whether you’re an exhibitor or a show official, it’s reasonable to expect guidance and counsel, procedures and protocols, and even calm and confident reassurance, from the sport’s governing body.
But without AKC’s direction or assurances, and in the void created by its absence, you are left to forge ahead, in darkness, alone and in fear.
I’m not talking about COVID-19.
I’m talking about sexual abuse and sexual predation of our young people in our dog sports.
In response to the public outcry following the horrifying allegations of sexual abuse of more than 250 young gymnasts by Larry Nasser, the former National Medical Coordinator for USA Gymnastics, in 2018, the “Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act,” commonly referred to as the Safe Sport Act, was enacted. The Safe Sport Act expanded existing child-abuse reporting laws to ensure that abuse of youth participating in sports did not go unreported, and required abuse-awareness training of adults participating in youth sports.
The reach of the Safe Sport Act is broad; it covers what are considered National Governing Bodies (NGBs) as recognized by the US Olympic Committee, all the way down to local sports teams. In essence, the Safe Sport Act requires reporting, training and abuse-prevention policies in youth athletics. It contains tough liability provisions for non-compliance, intended to force organizations to deal with the problem of abuse of young people in sports.
Within the context of dog shows and events, we have youth participating in dog events in their own categories, e.g., Juniors, but also in the same classes and competitions with adults. We have young people working as handler’s assistants. We have young people competing on AKC traveling teams. The Safe Sport Act creates obligations for any adults who interact with young people within any of these contexts.
The Safe Sport Act requires training on sexual, physical and emotional abuse of youth for anyone involved with youth, so that could encompass handlers, judges, show officials, volunteers and coaches. It requires that covered individuals must report suspected abuse. But reporting necessitates that policies and procedures – which also include enforcement and audit provisions – be adopted for such reporting and for the handling of such reports.
And all that starts with an unequivocal policy statement from the governing body denouncing abuse and acknowledging its responsibility to ensure the sport is safe for young people. Then, the requisite training, the reporting receptacle and the implementing policies and procedures must come from AKC. Clubs and participants cannot be left to flounder in the dark on this issue.
So many people are ready to go back to shows. But they want assurances that when they do, they will be safe.
Let’s start by pulling that mask down from over our eyes.