Sexual Assault Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against USA Diving
USA Diving Inc. faces another class action lawsuit over sexual assault and molestation by a former coach, which divers allege the organization did nothing to prevent or stop, despite numerous complaints.
Amy Stevens and a woman identified only as “Jane Doe 1” filed the complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on September 30, naming USA Diving, Inc., the Indiana Diving Academy Inc., also known as Ripfest, former U.S. Olympic coach and Ripfest President John Wingfield, and former coach Johel Ramirez Suarez as defendants.
Following years of alleged sexual assaults on divers, Suarez was sentenced last month to more than a year and a half in prison for battery and inappropriate contact with a teen, following his arrest in November 2017.
Stevens, of Michigan, indicates she was one of a number of teenage girls Suarez touched inappropriately while supposedly helping her stretch. The lawsuit states that that she suffered through a dozen such incidents since she was 16 years old.
The unidentified plaintiff indicates that she worked for Ripfest in the fall of 2016, when Suarez came into her dorm room while she was asleep, and attempted to digitally penetrate her. She fought Suarez off and told Wingfield about the incident the next day, but the lawsuit claims he dismissed her complaint and took no action.
That incident sparked complaints from other female divers, who said they had similar experiences with Suarez, according to the lawsuit. However, the complaint claims Wingfield dismissed all of the concerns. The lawsuit indicates that at one point, Wingfield told them that Suarez was “Venezuelan, and that is just how they are.”
Wingfield’s response is part of a wider problem that afflicts the entire United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and its National Governing Body (NGB), according to the lawsuit. The USOC, the NGB and the various Team USA groups under its umbrella, like USA Diving, have placed profits and the desire to earn medals over the safety and well-being of its athletes, even to the point of turning a blind eye to the rape of child athletes, the lawsuit claims.
Since 1982, more than 290 coaches linked to USOC sports organizations have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct. The complaint predicts that number is probably many times larger once incidents that were never brought forward publicly are included.
“The toxic Olympic sports culture, including inside USA Diving, emboldens adult coaches to continue and proliferate their sexual exploitation without any fear of prosecution or financial penalty, which causes the toxic culture to metastasize. The combined result is a feedback loop of sexual abuse, exploitation, and forced labor of America’s young athletes, all so that the officials leading the USOC and its NGBs can feed the U.S. Olympics machine, which runs on ‘medals and money,’” the lawsuit states. “This lawsuit focuses on USA Diving, but most of the other NGBs (for the 46 other Olympic sports) are rife with the same systemic sexual abuse of young athletes.”
The claims are similar to those outlined in another class action lawsuit filed against USA Diving in July, on behalf of 50 plaintiffs who attended the Ohio State University Diving Club. That lawsuit claims that Will Bohonyl, a former diving coach and gynecologist, regularly sexually assaulted female athletes.
The claims are also similar to those made by hundreds of women and girls molested by Larry Nassar, a former Michigan State University (MSU) gynecologist who worked with USA Gymnastics.
Many of the women, who call themselves the Sister Survivors, indicate that they told MSU staff, USA Gymnastics officials and others about Nassar’s behavior, but were discouraged from reporting the incidents. Some testimony even suggested that MSU officials told the survivors that they simply did not know the difference between sexual assault and a medical examination. However, after victims began to step forward publicly, the abuse finally got over-due attention and Nassar was arrested, tried, and found guilty on multiple charges.
After receiving a federal sentence of 60 years on child pornography charges last year, Nassar will spend the rest of his life in jail. He has also received two additional sentences; including one for 40 to 175 years, and another of 40 to 125 years from verdicts in two Michigan courts.
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