Prominent Taekwondo Athlete, Steven Lopez, and Coach Jean Lopez Accused of Sexual Abuse
The Olympic governing body has once again been accused of failing to protect athletes from their abusers, the most prominent example being that of the U.S. Gymnastics team. Former doctor for the U.S. Gymnastics team, Dr. Lawrence Nassar has accumulated more than 100 complaints of sexual abuse against him for sexually assaulting young athletes in his care. The allegations claim the USA Gymnatics, the Olympic Governing Body fot the sport failed to protect athletes by attempting to handle the issue internally rather than turning it over to proper authorities. Most recently, another case has come to light where prominent taekwondo superstar brothers, Steven and Jean Lopez, face accusations of sexual assaults against 4 different women.
Despite facing sexual abuse accusations, Steven Lopez was permitted to compete in the Rio Games last summer, while his brother, Jean Lopez, served as his coach. The Lopezes are famous in the sport of taekwondo, and they, along with their two younger siblings, are often referred to as the “First Family of Taekwondo.” USA Taekwondo began to investigate the Lopez brothers 2 years ago after receiving complaints of alleged incidents of sexual abuse. However, the organization held no hearings and put the inquiry on hold in favor of focusing attention on the upcoming Rio Games.
In response to this seeming lack of concern, attorney, Donald Alperstein, shared what he knew with the FBI and the police. The accusations were made by former athletes Mandy Meloon, Heidi Gilbert, and two anonymous women.
Meloon worked with Steven and Jean Lopez throughout her taekwondo career, placing as a bronze medalist in the 1997 and 2005 world championships. She claims that when she was 16 years old and competing at the World Cup event in 1997 Jean Lopez sexually assaulted her in her hotel room. Meloon also accused Steve Lopez of raping her once during the 6 years they dated, and repeatedly physically assaulted her. She attempted to report the abuse multiple times, refusing to stay quiet about her grievances. In response to her complaint, David Askinas, the then-CEO of USA Taekwondo, said her claims “weren’t credible.” Instead, Meloon was asked to sign a contract preventing her from being alone with Lopez. A year later, she was dropped from the team for refusal to train and the negative comments she made against USA Taekwondo officials, coaches, and athletes who, she claimed, violated the code of conduct.
Heidi Gilbert, also a competitive taekwondo athlete, claims her coach Jean Lopez sexually assaulted her in 2002 in a hotel room while traveling for competitions. She also states that 1 year Lopez drugged her and choked and slapped her before sexually assaulting her. Gilbert did not report the incident for fear of repercussions, but says she was contacted by Askinas and asked to keep quiet. Askinas denies this.
One of the anonymous women was in a relationship with Steven Lopez andalleges that during that time he raped her. The second anonymous woman joined the Lopez gym at age 13 to train. Both she and her mother noted that Steven Lopez showed immediate interest in her, though he was 24 years old at the time. Years later, at the age of 18, she attended a party where she was allegedly drugged and woke up to discover Steven Lopez had sexual relations with her while she was unconscious.
Christina Johnson, another former taekwondo athlete, also spoke out about her abuse from numerous coaches and athletes, including Steven and Jean Lopez. In light of the numerous accusations, the USA Taekwondo board hired a separate attorney. The case is currently being investigated by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an agency that handles abuse allegations for National Governing Bodies.
For more information about this case, visit usatoday.com.
If you or someone you know has been sexually abused by a fellow athlete or athletic coach, you are not alone, and you can seek justice. At Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, our attorneys proudly represent victims of sexual assault cases across the nation and continue to battle these brutal crimes with compassionate legal representation. We are careful to protect the identities of our clients who wish to remain anonymous, and our firm will devote our legal skills to obtaining the justice, compensation, and peace you deserve.
Contact Manly, Stewart & Finaldi today to discuss your legal options with our California sexual abuse lawyers.