MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A review of the thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing industry in Australia’s state of Victoria has detailed multiple allegations of physical and sexual abuse over a period of decades, with victims including children as young as 12.
Until the 1990s, it was common practice in Australia for child apprentice jockeys to be indentured to stables, with trainers their legal guardians.
The independent report into the racing industry’s victim support and complaint processes said a “culture of silence” had contributed to incidents of abuse being left unchecked.
The report covered historical and current incidents dating back to the 1970s, drawing from direct, in-person accounts from 185 people who work or previously worked in the industry.
“The abuse involves rape, other forms of sexual and physical assault, humiliating initiation practices, ritualised violence, grooming and harassment, including in recent years,” the report released on Wednesday said.
“Some of this abuse was perpetrated against children as young as 12.”
The review said a number of experiences recounted stemmed from the 1970s to the 1990s, when there was no system in place to safeguard and protect minors or vulnerable people.
More than a third of the participants in the review reported abuse occurring to them since 2020.
The review was authored by Racing Integrity Commissioner Sean Carroll and commissioned by governing bodies Racing Victoria, Harness Racing Victoria and Greyhound Racing Victoria in March 2022.
Victoria is home to Australia’s most famous horse race, the Melbourne Cup, and a number of other high-profile meetings in the state’s Spring Carnival in October and November.
Carroll said in an introduction to the review that he was personally “devastated” to hear experiences of continuing tolerance of harassment, abuse and assault.
“A number describe feeling invisible and invalidated because they consider that people in positions of authority have historically turned their backs on the problem, and colleagues and bystanders continue to walk past and turn a blind eye when they witness specific incidents,” he said.
“This is unacceptable and the controlling bodies must do more to incorporate effective bystander strategies in industry education.”
The report made nine recommendations, including the establishment of a pathway for victims to receive compensation.
The review prompted racing authorities to apologise to victims.
“We thank sincerely those who had the courage to come forward and share their experiences,” Racing Victoria boss Andrew Jones said in a statement.
“We acknowledge the harm suffered and, on behalf of the industry, apologise for it.
“No one should experience physical or sexual abuse, assault or harassment, including in their workplace, and everyone, from employers to colleagues, has a role in ensuring that.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Alex Richardson)