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In a new lawsuit, USA Diving is accused of concealing “numerous” sexual abuse reports from appropriate law enforcement authorities, according to USA Today.
The lawsuit centers around claims of sexual abuse and molestation at RipFest Diving, a diving club in Arcadia, Indiana. The lawsuit’s multiple plaintiffs accuse Johel Ramirez, a former diving coach at RipFest, of inappropriate touching and attempted digital penetrations. This is the first case of youth sports sex abuse filed against RipFest Diving.
This is the second major lawsuit to accuse USA Diving of not doing enough to protect young athletes from sexual abuse. A separate class action was filed against the national governing body in July 2018.
The case, filed in an Indiana federal court, revolves around the sexual abuse allegations against William Bohonyi, a former diving coach at the Ohio State University Diving Club. USA Diving is the national governing body that oversees Olympic-level and international competition in the sport of diving for the United States.
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Johel Ramirez no longer works at RipFest Diving. In a statement, the diving club wrote, “last year, when we became aware of allegations against Ramirez, we immediately removed him from our program, instructed him not to return to our facility pending the outcome of the investigation and terminated him.” The coach was convicted in September on charges of battery in a Hamilton County court of law.
Ramirez pleaded guilty to three counts of battery, though a number of additional charges, including 10 counts of sexual abuse were dropped by prosecutors.
In public statements, RipFest Diving has asserted that it has a “zero tolerance policy” on allegations of sexual abuse.
The diving club says that, after the allegations against Ramirez were first raised, he was immediately put on suspension and ultimately fired. In their new lawsuit, plaintiffs who trained at the club say that all of these claims are false.
In the new case, the plaintiffs say they were young girls chasing Olympic dreams when the alleged abuse took place. The plaintiffs accuse RipFest Diving of failing to protect young student athletes from an alleged sexual predator, Johel Ramirez.
They say concerns were raised early, when young divers first stepped forward to report misconduct against the coach, yet these allegations were met with silence.
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RipFest Diving is run by John Wingfield, a former US Olympic Coach who remains affiliated with USA Diving. In the lawsuit, plaintiffs say Wingfield presided over a “culture that tolerated sexual harassment, objectification, assault and abuse.”
One of the case’s plaintiffs says she was molested by Johel Ramirez in the fall of 2016, when the coach attempted to penetrate her while she was sleeping in a RipFest-controlled dormitory. Another young woman says that she was molested no fewer than 12 times by Ramirez. She claims that the diving coach repeatedly rubbed her vulva through her swimsuit during stretching sessions.
Together, the plaintiffs say that “numerous” young athletes came forward to report Ramirez’s alleged misconduct to Wingfield, but that the diving club owner brushed away their concerns. At one point, a plaintiff says, Wingfield told her that Ramirez could not be confronted because he is Venezuelan. “That is just how they [Venezuelans] are,” Wingfield is said to have responded.
The lawsuit’s allegations are not isolated to Johel Ramirez. In court documents, the plaintiffs mention two other RipFest coaches who they say acted inappropriately with young divers.
One of these men is accused of “trying to solicit nude photos from female divers and sending them pictures of his penis,” USA Today reports. Neither of these men are named as defendants in the suit, but plaintiffs write that these additional cases of sexual abuse go to substantiate their claims that RipFest diving club became a breeding ground for sexual predation.
Many of the lawsuit’s most damning allegations are reserved for the United States Olympic Committee and USA Diving, two organizations that the plaintiffs claim have traded the promise of “medals and money” for player safety.
“The United States Olympic Committee and its National Governing Body for diving, USA Diving, have reached for commercial success at all costs by ignoring, denying, obstructing or covering up complaints of sexual abuse, deferring and diverting investigations, and suppressing all questions about sexual exploitation by its coaches,” the lawsuit says.