Sarah's Story
This story reflects the participant’s personal experience as told by them and may be triggering for individuals who have experienced sexual abuse or misconduct.

I am one of six women (at this point) who have come forward to SafeSport with a complaint against a man I’ve known since I was 12 and later worked for as an adult.

I’m telling my story now for three reasons. One, so that what happened to me does not happen anybody else. Two, because I realized that what happened was really, really wrong, and it doesn't actually matter if, after a certain point, I became willing to participate—it was wrong. And, three, I am doing this for clarity for myself.

I started riding at Gordon’s* girlfriend’s barn when I was 12—my mom found it. It was a big barn family type of place. In the summer, a lot of us would spend the night there on the weekends. There were always big group dinners and birthday celebrations. It felt like a large extended family.

But even at 12, the dynamic there was wildly inappropriate.  

At one of the sleepovers that first summer, I came in from the swimming pool to use the bathroom and Gordon came out of his bedroom with an erect penis. I grew up with a single mom, I had never seen that before in my life. He began rubbing his penis and asked me if I wanted to touch it. I literally sprinted out of the house and never said anything about it until 20 odd years later.

At 12, it’s hard to process an encounter like that. When you’re a child and the adults you look up to act inappropriately, you just accepts it. It becomes normalized behavior. It was just “Gordon being Gordon.”

Over the years, the barn became an incredibly important place to me. I was obsessed with horses and convinced that my barn family was better than my own family, so I found a way to rationalize his lewd behavior, serial affairs and derogatory commentary.

My relationship with Gordon didn’t turn sexual until I went to work for him. I was 24. He was in his late 40s and in a committed relationship. He was my boss.

On a drive to Kentucky for a horse show in 2004, he asked me to stand up and take off my clothes and bend over. When we laid over in Colorado, he demanded oral sex for the first time. That happened several times over the two week horse show and also on the way back to California.

I’m not sure why I went along with it. I think I was so lonely that deep down, I welcomed the attention. There must’ve been something about me that gave off the feeling that I was lost or a stray, but I didn’t feel that way at the time. Maybe I just didn’t see it.

When we got back to California, it became clear that Gordon wanted to pursue a sexual relationship. I told him I was not interested and that it was very wrong and it made me feel uncomfortable. But he persisted.I would go into the office and he would ask me to stand up and bend over, and he would have sex with me not looking at my face. He told me he couldn't havesex with his partner anymore because it was too uncomfortable for her.

Once I was in that situation, I didn’t know how to get out of it. So I started drinking. Drinking and just checking out completely.

I can honestly say I never had any illusions of running off to an island or something with him. I was never in love with Gordon. And there were multiple times, over a 12-year period, where the abuse was dormant because I had a boyfriend. (Thank God for that). There were other times I was an employee and living on the property, and I would be passed out drunk and wake up with his head between my legs. I later found out he was sleeping with one of my coworkers at the same time.

So I drank. I got four DUIs in five years.

I know through a lot of therapy and rehab and also quite a bit of jail time that what I was doing was self-medicating and disassociating from the situation. But each time throughout the 12 years, I went back to work for him and his partner.

In 2010, I got my last DUI. I went to rehab for five months and then I went to jail for five months, and after that I did not go back onto the property or work for him again for four years. 

There were two more exchanges after, though. One happened at a horse show. I was competing and Gordon's partner volunteered him to drive me home. (I didn't drive at the time.) I said, “No, I can take an Uber. It’s all good.” But she insisted.

So, he drives me home. I thank him for the ride and as I turn to leave, he said, “Well, I'm coming in, I want to see your place. And what is the story that we are going to tell [my partner]?”

I told him, “I don't want you to come in. I don't want you in my apartment and whatever story you decide to tell her is on you. I'm telling her you dropped me off at the curb.”

I’ve since spoken with a couple of the women he had inappropriate relationships with and we think his partner must have known and maybe even set up situations for him. There were many times she’d be like, “Oh, why don't you ride with Gordon here?” “Why don't you go with him to go pick up this horse?” Or “why don't you go with Gordon on a delivery?” It was weird. 

On the other occasion, he had the audacity to tell me that he didn't think that it was a good idea that we were intimate together anymore and also that I had gained weight. It was humiliating.

I've always been the type of person who finds it easier to help other people than to help myself. I know for a fact that there are more women that he has abused. If sharing my story could help one person come forward, it would be worth it.

Because this, talking about it, it’s a really hard thing. It's a difficult journey. Even now. Maybe especially now.

I'm 42 and married to one of my best friends, a man I've known for 17 years. He didn't know what was going on during those 12 years. I've since divulged everything to him and it's really difficult on so many levels. He doesn't understand why I didn't want to be more than friends with him at the time? And how could I let something like that happen and be such a strong female?

I get it. I don’t really understand why. I’m still processing what happened. I had a moment the other day and I thought, Shit. Perhaps my life could have been could have taken a different path? Maybe I wouldn’t have started drinking myself to death and getting DUI after DUI and going back to this messed up situation. Maybe I would have married my husband at 24. Maybe I would have made the same choices. Maybe. But perhaps not.

I'm a firm believer that you're only as sick as your secrets and I can't live my whole life and pretend like this didn't happen. It's bigger than just talking about it in rehab and talking about it with a therapist. I just hope and pray that I'm strong enough to see this all through. Because I really want to. I want to stay in the mindset where I don't get resentful and I don't get angry because I've already been there. I've already dealt with my anger and I don't have any sort of an agenda for speaking up other than helping other people.

I honestly, 100 percent, don't care about him. But this has really affected my life. And it clearly still is.

Every day since I started talking to SafeSport I wake up in the middle of the night and I have these thoughts and I have this anxiety. I’m sad. I sleep most of the time on my day off now and I'm back in this sad little place and I want to get to the place where he doesn't have this power over me.  

I want to move forward with my life, and I want to move on with my life. I want to have good relationships with people, including my husband and my family. And I want to be able to maintain the good job that I have right now.

I'm not interested in going after him legally, at this time. I honestly don't know if I'm strong enough. But I do want some sort of justice. I want to make sure that it doesn't happen to anyone else. And part of me wishes he felt the pain that I felt. I wish he could feel how uncomfortable it is to be in that situation, what it's like to lose all your civil liberties because you couldn't cope with the reality of your situation. But part of me just wants people to hear the truth, and that should be enough. 

The other day, a woman who used to be a client at the barn came up to my line at Safeway and put her hand on my arm and asked me if I was okay.  

And I told her I was. “I'm trying really hard to be.”

She said, “It's just so horrible, I'm so sorry.” And that meant a lot. To know that people aren't saying, “Oh, she's just a star fucker” or “some poor little drunk pawn who just couldn't say no” or something—that’s giving me power.

The SafeSport process is slow and painful. I know I'm going to have good days and bad days. I know that. But I stepped up. I stepped up, a 100 percent. Because this is so much bigger than myself. And that's what gives me the strength to move forward and do the right thing. It takes it off my shoulders.

*All names in this story have been changed.