Children as young as 12 have been physically and sexually abused in Victoria’s racing industry over the past 50 years, exposed to harm through a culture of cover-ups.
In a long-awaited report into victim support and complaint systems, the Racing Integrity Commissioner found community members had lived and breathed the industry for generations.
But that sense of community also led to an environment where harassment, abuse and assault went unchecked.
“The dark flip side of loyalty has been a culture of silence across the industry that is underpinned by an historical and widespread, tacit discouragement of reporting,” the commission said in a report released on Wednesday.
“At times, those who have raised complaints have been the subject of overt retaliation. A number hold the perception that perpetrators of abuse have been protected.”
Integrity commissioner Sean Carroll heard devastating accounts of rape, sexual and physical assault, humiliating initiation practices, ritualised violence, grooming and harassment.
Children as young as 12 were among the victims, with 38 per cent of the reported harm taking place in the 2020s.
The review uncovered historical harm as far back as the 1970s.
From the 1970s to 1990s, it was common for child apprentice jockeys to be indentured to stables and trainers to become their legal guardians.
Brutal initiation rituals were considered normal practice and a rite of passage in many stables, with the smallest and youngest predominantly targeted.
Participants were thrown in chaff bags and left on the street, in manure pits and other places, locked in the boot of a car for hours, stripped naked and left in the middle of a racecourse, and urinated on from the trainers’ tower.
Another spoke of witnessing an initiation where the victim was doused in kerosene or methylated spirits and had a cigarette thrown at them, causing significant burns.
Examples of sexual assaults varied from being whipped on the genitals, having pubic hair burnt and various forms of rape.
Those who reported abuse were not believed or supported, faced retaliation, or had their complaints swept under the carpet.
One person said raising awareness of sexual abuse had detrimental career impacts and questioned if they would have been believed.
“It’s (a high-profile participant). I’m a kid,” they said.
Review participants were distressed by some perpetrators still working in the $4.7 billion industry.
A victim who was sexually assaulted by a high-profile figure said the industry was just as guilty for covering up the abuse.
“Evil prevails when good men fail to act,” they said.
No referrals for criminal prosecution were made within the 78-page report, with the commissioner leaving it up to individuals and controlling bodies to report alleged criminal conduct to police.
The report made nine recommendations, including establishing a redress scheme within the next 12 months.
Racing Minister Anthony Carbines said the allegations from victims were unacceptable and deeply distressing.
“Their voices have been heard and will drive meaningful and enduring change,” he said.
Racing Victoria, Greyhound Racing Victoria and Harness Racing Victoria have offered apologies for the harm people suffered and committed to change.
“While the review covered all three codes, it is clear there were unacceptable practices in the thoroughbred racing industry,” Racing Victoria chief executive Andrew Jones said.
“While the industry has come a long way, there are still issues to deal with.”
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
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