USA Diving accused of ignoring alleged sexual abuse of athletes

Photo: Kelly Wilkinson, Indy Star

A class action lawsuit against Indianapolis-based USA Diving accuses the national governing body of ignoring or obstructing sexual abuse allegations, and the lawyer says the organization is “worse than gymnastics, worse than swimming.”

Indy-based USA Gymnastics has been in turmoil since an IndyStar investigation that started in 2016.

A former Olympic swimmer sued USA Swimming in May, bringing renewed attention on sexual abuse in that sport.

The diving lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court last week, describes the now-familiar dynamic of a coach-athlete power imbalance leading to sexual abuse.

Two former divers are named in the lawsuit accusing coach Will Bohonyi, a former Indiana University diver, of coercing and forcing them into frequent sex.

Attorney Jon Little said in an interview with IndyStar that other divers have come forward and “this is just the beginning for USA Diving.”

A spokeswoman for USA Diving said in a statement Monday, “Providing a safe environment for our members is of tremendous importance to USA Diving, and we take these matters very seriously. USA Diving is unable to comment further at this time.”

Bohonyi did not immediately respond to an email from IndyStar requesting comment.

Bohonyi coached at the Ohio State University Diving Club, which bills itself on its website as the  “second highest ranking junior competitive USA Diving team in the United States.”

Bohonyi has been on USA Diving’s list of banned coaches since 2015, but the lawsuit alleges that action didn’t happen until six months after Ohio State University investigated one of the women’s allegations and recommended his termination. The report, the lawsuit says, was provided to USA Diving.

During that time, the lawsuit alleges, Bohoyoni forced the girl to perform sex acts numerous times while she was a minor. She also sent him hundreds of naked photos.

The girl was an Olympic hopeful, having competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials at age 13.

“Bohonyi psychologically coerced (the woman) into believing that she was required to perform sexual services in exchange for her continued involvement in diving,” the lawsuit says. “He preyed on her age, vulnerability, and dreams of becoming an Olympian, and used the power structure and imbalance of power (coach/athlete) to make her believe she was required to sexually service him in exchange for her involvement in diving for Team USA.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Ohio State University has had possession of the naked photos for almost four years and “no action has been taken.”

During a meet in August 2014 in Knoxville, Tenn., the girl’s teammate informed the head coach of the Ohio State Diving Club about the abuse, the lawsuit alleges. The girl, who had just turned 17, was sent home. Bohonyi stayed.

“The Ohio State University has no interest in hurting their brand,” Little said in the interview. “This is part of a massive problem at Ohio State that’s not just isolated to Dr. Strauss.”

Several former Ohio State wrestlers said Richard Stauss, a team doctor who committed suicide in 2005, abused them during medical treatments going back to the 1970s.

Ben Johnson, a spokesman for the university, disputed the allegation about being concerned about image over justice. He said the school has a prominent red button on its home page that links to information on the case and encourages people to come forward.

Johnson said that in 2014 the school immediately opened an administrative investigation after learning about allegations against Bohonyi, and notified the county’s child protection services and the Ohio State University Police Department.

Police dropped the investigation at the request of the diver. But the administrative investigation continued and resulted in Bohonyi’s firing 10 days after the school was informed. The investigation was reported to USA Diving, the spokesman said, “in 2014.”

That closed investigation was re-opened on Jan. 30 of this year after the university was again contacted by the plaintiff, Johnson said. University police are working with the Franklin County Prosecutor.

“The safety and security of our students, faculty, staff and visitors is Ohio State’s top priority and the university does not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind,” the spokesman said.

The other diver named in the lawsuit is a former member of the Indiana Diving Club and IU’s diving team. Bohonyi was her coach

Starting in 2009, the lawsuit alleges, Bohonyi cultivated an abusive relationship, eventually coercing the woman into daily sex, saying, “You owe me this.” The lawsuit alleges he told the other diver the same thing.

“He made clear to (the woman) that this exchange was required for him to continue coaching her as part of USA Diving,” the lawsuit says.

Neither Indiana University nor the Indiana Diving Club is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

For more, visit the Indianapolis Star

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