The governing body of the United States’ Olympic teams ignored dozens of athletes’ sexual misconduct complaints against two taekwondo champions for years, according to a new lawsuit.
The U.S. Olympic Committee, as well as USA Taekwondo, turned a blind eye to decades of alleged sexual abuse by brothers Steven and Jean Lopez, two of the sport’s most high-profile figures, contends a lawsuit filed Friday by four named women, as well as 44 women who have yet to be identified.
The lawsuit marks the latest legal battle for the Olympic Committee, which was sued in February over its handling of misconduct claims against Larry Nassar, the disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November to serial sexual abuse of his patients. Over 265 women have accused Nassar of sexual assault, including Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman and Simone Biles.
The lawsuit accuses USOC, USA Taekwondo and the Lopez brothers of knowingly participating in human trafficking. The organizations were aware of the numerous sexual abuse complaints since 1996 but continued to allow the brothers to travel and interact with young female athletes, the plaintiffs contend.
“The USOC is deeply focused on supporting, protecting and empowering the athletes we serve,” Patrick Sandusky, chief external affairs officer for the Olympic Committee, told HuffPost in a statement Tuesday.
“We are aggressively exploring and implementing new ways to enhance athlete safety, and prevent and respond to abuse,” Sandusky continued. “The launch of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, along with a number of additional significant actions we are taking, will ensure that our athletes are better protected from these heinous acts.”
While we cannot comment on a case in process, USA Taekwondo fully supports the important work of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and respects its exclusive jurisdiction over sexual misconduct matters. Statement from USA Taekwondo
USA Taekwondo coach Jean Lopez, 44, was banned from the sport last month following accusations that he sexually assaulted four female taekwondo athletes dating back to 1997. A report from the U.S. Center for SafeSport concluded Lopez had engaged in a “decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct” and allegedly used his authority as a coach to “groom, manipulate, and ultimately, sexually abuse younger female athletes.”
Jean’s younger brother, 39-year-old Steven Lopez, was temporarily suspended from the sport on Monday pending an investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations. Steven Lopez, a two-time Olympic champion, is one of USA Taekwondo’s most decorated athletes.
USA Taekwondo declined to comment on the lawsuit, but confirmed Steven Lopez’s suspension.
“While we cannot comment on a case in process, USA Taekwondo fully supports the important work of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and respects its exclusive jurisdiction over sexual misconduct matters,” a representative for USA Taekwondo told HuffPost in a statement.
“We will resolutely enforce this immediate suspension and any other sanction imposed by the Center,” according to the statement. “We note that this is an important part of providing a safe and nurturing environment for our athletes. Today’s decision is another example of the progress that is clearly being made in this area.”
Neither Lopez brother responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment.