Sexual assault in u.s. Sports: female water diving coach sued

Former female athletes are pressing charges against the U.S. Women’s Water Diving Association. Officials allegedly covered up sexual abuse.

Shortly before the jump Photo: imago / Insidefoto

The US federation of water jumpers has a problem. It is charged with covering up and obstructing the investigation of sexual abuse allegations against an Ohio University federation coach. At the center of the allegations is former coach Will Bohonyi. The plaintiffs suspect structures similar to those in the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, which covered up sexual assaults involving female athletes for years. The names of the plaintiff alleged victims are not yet known.

In the statement of claim filed by two of the female athletes concerned, it is said that Bohonyi regularly forced the teenagers to have sex in the summer of 2014. The U.S. association had been informed of this, but only took action against Bohonyi after more than half a year and further complaints, which moreover did not do justice to the seriousness of the accusations. Bohonyi was suspended in February 2015 and has since been on a list of coaches banned from working for the U.S. team.

According to the indictment, Bohonyi used his power in the federation to "psychologically pressure and demand sexual services from the youths in order to nominate them for the U.S. women’s water diving team and thus keep the athletes’ dream of the Olympics alive." The U.S. federation announced it was taking the incidents "very seriously" but could not "comment" on them at this time.

U.S. sport was recently rocked by an abuse scandal in the women’s artistic gymnastics camp. In the wake of the indictment, Larry Nassar, a longtime doctor for the U.S. national team, was sentenced to life in prison after complaints from more than 300 girls and women. The association had previously covered up for Nassar with knowledge of several abuse cases, and the leadership team resigned from their posts after the cases came to light.

Uni did nothing for four years

Bohonyi had been hired in 2012 to coach the women’s water diving team and apparently created a relationship of dependence with his athletes, a climate in which he extorted sexual services. The plaintiffs accuse their former coach of "taking advantage of their vulnerability and imbalance of power to make them believe that they had to serve him sexually."

Bohonyi allegedly told his charges, "You owe me this." One athlete, moreover, allegedly sent him dozens of nude photos of herself. Ohio University allegedly had possession of those images for four years and "did nothing," according to the allegation.

Attorney John Little, who filed the lawsuit, said in a newspaper interview that other female aquatic athletes have also come forward. He is quoted as saying, "This is just the beginning for the federation." The situation, he said, is "worse than in gymnastics, worse than in swimming." The abuse blew up in 2014 when a teammate of the alleged victim went to the head coach of the water diving team during a training camp in Tennessee and told him about the incidents. The athlete involved, then just 17 years old, was sent home, but not Bohonyi, he said.

"Ohio State University has no interest in infringing on its brand," says attorney Little. "This is part of a massive problem." This isn’t the first time the university, still the fourth-largest campus in the U.S., has been in the spotlight: several former wrestlers have reported how a team doctor who committed suicide in 2005 abused them during medical treatments. These cases date back to the 1970s.