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Sexual abuse in youth and collegiate sports has become far too common. From Dr. Larry Nassar at Michigan State to Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, coaches have been known to use their position of power and authority to coerce athletes into performing sexual acts in exchange for favor and attention. Popular youth sports such as soccer and swimming have seen their fair share of sexual abuse scandals.
And now, USA Diving. Who is at fault and how can it be prevented? These are two issues coming to light in a class-action lawsuit filed against USA Diving accusing William Bohonyi of preying on at least two female divers while he was a USA Diving coach at the Ohio State University Diving Club.
In this latest lawsuit, plaintiffs allege Bohonyi coerced them into engaging in daily sexual acts and sending nude pictures of themselves, using his position of power to "trade sex for diving coaching." Of note, one plaintiff was a minor at the time of the violations. Both divers were frequently told "You owe me this." A teammate of one of the divers reported the coach to Ohio State University staff after seeing an alarming message on the teenager's phone. The university in turn notified Franklin County Children's Services, university police, and USA Diving.
In a typical turn of events, the teenager quickly closed the police investigation two weeks after it was opened. The University had already terminated Bohanyi by then. But plaintiffs claim USA Diving, which is the sole governing body of club diving in America, didn't act so swiftly. They claim USA Diving initially refused to investigate Bohonyi, and then took approximately seven months to ban him for life from coaching club diving.
Also, despite being place on the banned for life list in 2015, for over four year, USA Diving continued to provide Bohonyi access to underage female divers in the form of private coaching, which the organization claims is separate from club coaching. USA Diving has indeed done nothing to stop him from acting as a private diving coach and potentially allows Bohonyi to hold himself out as a member of USA Diving because he is a spokesman and marketing specialist for one of their major sponsors.
Can a sports governing body be held responsible for the acts of its member-coaches? And if so, do they have a "duty to warn" others of possible danger? The U.S. Government would like the answer to be "yes". In February 2018, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act was signed into law, which extends the duty to report suspected child abuse, including sexual abuse, which requires adults and governing bodies to report sex-abuse allegations to local or federal law enforcement within 24 hours. It has yet to be seen, though, if this "duty to warn" extends indefinitely. In this case, the plaintiffs allege that USA Diving had the duty to warn years after they placed Bohonyi on the banned for life list.
Stay tuned to see if the courts will extend the duty to warn to USA Diving. In the mean time, if you or someone you love is the victim of sexual abuse, please contact your local Personal Injury Or Sexual Abuse attorney, who can listen to your claim and help get legal justice if appropriate.
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