Former athletes file lawsuit against U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Taekwondo for alleged sexual abuse, sex trafficking

The U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo have been named in a lawsuit by four former female athletes claiming <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/olympics/rio-2016/a/1124314/" data-ylk="slk:Steven Lopez">Steven Lopez</a>, right, and his brother and team coach, Jean, sexually abused them and both organizations ignored it. (Getty Images)
The U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo have been named in a lawsuit by four former female athletes claiming Steven Lopez, right, and his brother and team coach, Jean, sexually abused them and both organizations ignored it. (Getty Images)

The U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo have been accused of sex trafficking in a new federal lawsuit filed on Friday by four female athletes. The athletes claim that both the USOC and USA Taekwondo “sent them to competitions across the world with athletes and coaches known to be sexual predators”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Heidi Gilbert and Mandy Meloon, two former stars in the sport, and Amber Means and Gaby Joslin.

“The USOC knowingly trafficked these girls to obtain medals and money, time and again,” Jon Little, an attorney for one of the athletes, told USA TODAY.

Both Jean and Steven Lopez are in the middle of sexual misconduct investigations. Jean is a longtime coach within the organization, coaching the Olympic team from 2004-2016. Last month, Jean was banned from the sport for “a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct.”

Steven is a five-time Olympian, winning gold medals in 2000 and 2004 and a bronze medal in 2008. He also is a five-time world champion. Steven qualified for his 24th national team in February, and reportedly intends to compete through the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

The women allege that both Steven and Jean sexually assaulted them, and that both the USOC and USA Taekwondo knew about the abuse. And, because many of the incidents occurred outside of the United States, the lawsuit claims that both organizations engaged in sex trafficking. b

Because of both Steven and Jean’s prominence in the sport, the lawsuit claims that both the USOC and USA Taekwondo ignored complaints against the brothers.

“The commercial benefits delivered by the Lopez family to the USOC and USA TKD (medals and money) were more important than the safety and security of Plaintiffs and the other members of the Class,” the lawsuit reads.

Gilbert trained under Jean when she was competing in the sport and won a world championship in 1998. She detailed one encounter to NPR with Jean in which he “assaulted her in his hotel room”

From NPR:

Heidi Gilbert alleges that after winning a gold medal in her weight class in the Pan American Games in Ecuador in 2002, Jean Lopez assaulted her in his hotel room. She says he threw her onto the bed and, at first, she thought they were wrestling. But then, she says, he put her in a fetal position, rubbed his groin against her, and ejaculated into his pants.

Gilbert also told USA TODAY about another incident after a tournament in Germany in 2003.

From USA TODAY:

Gilbert told USA TODAY Sports that after a 2003 tournament in Germany, she was given a drink by Jean Lopez. She soon began to feel woozy, and Lopez said he would take her back to her hotel. Gilbert said he began molesting her in the cab, and then sexually assaulted her after they arrived at the hotel.

Meloon, a two-time world champion, has accused both brothers of assault. She was in a relationship with Steven for several years, and told NPR that he “physically beat her on more than one occasion,” and that he raped her in 2005. She filed a formal complaint against the brothers in 2006.

From NPR:

Meloon … alleges in the suit that Jean Lopez digitally penetrated her vagina when she was asleep in her hotel room in Cairo, Egypt, after she competed in the World Cup in 1997. As detailed in the lawsuit, she was 15 years old at the time.

“Rather than upholding the values and spirit of Team USA, these bad actors manipulated the trust placed in them, abused the power and legitimacy bestowed upon them, shattered the innocence and dreams of numbers female athletes, and violated numerous federal and state laws,” the lawsuit reads.

This marks the second major lawsuit in recent weeks against the USOC regarding sexual misconduct. Martha and Bela Karolyi, who led the USA Gymnastics program for decades and held a major training center at their Texas ranch, filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.

Nassar, who was the former national team doctor, was sentenced to prison earlier this year for abusing more than 260 women and girls, much of which took place on the Karolyi’s ranch. The Karolyi’s claim that they didn’t learn of Nassar’s abuse until after the 2016 Olympics, when news of the scandal was starting to break, and is a key point in their lawsuit. However, a report from the Orange County Register on Thursday found that Martha knew of the allegations more than a year before she said she did.

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