COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A former Olympic-track diver’s lawsuit against Ohio State University claiming it failed to adequately protect her from her coach’s sexual abuse will continue with discovery, a judge has ruled.
The diver, who was a minor when she dove for the since-disbanded Ohio State Diving Club, said she was sexually abused by assistant coach Will Bohonyi while she was 16 and 17, including multiple assaults on campus. Although Ohio State fired Bohonyi in August 2014 after an investigation into a “consensual/sexual relationship” between him and the diver, the diver claimed on-campus abuse occurred for months after he was banned from campus.
In February, a federal judge denied Ohio State’s request for summary judgment in the case, accepting the diver’s argument that the university filed the motion before parties had sufficient time to collect and review evidence. In late March, the judge ruled the parties would have until July 19 to complete discovery, after which Ohio State may again request for the judge to rule on the case without going to trial.
The diver has further argued that Ohio State was aware of hundreds of images and videos of her sexual abuse since July 2014 but failed to properly investigate. At the request of the diver, Ohio State police reopened an investigation in 2018, and local and federal law enforcement recovered evidence of her sexual abuse from her phones and social media accounts.
In the lawsuit, the diver’s attorneys claimed Ohio State mishandled the administrative and criminal investigations into Bohonyi. Namely, the complaint argues the university didn’t investigate the diver’s assertions that Bohonyi frequently asked her for sexually explicit images, nor did it interview other divers despite multiple athletic administrators – and Bohonyi himself – noting that he regularly messaged with other underage team members.
“Had Bohonyi been charged with the crimes he was obviously guilty of when OSU first learned of the explicit photos of [the diver] as a minor, Bohonyi would not have had continued access to [the diver] – there is virtually no question that her abuse would have stopped,” the diver’s attorneys wrote in response to Ohio State’s request for summary judgment.
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Ohio State has denied the diver’s accusations that it did not turn over evidence of sexual abuse to the appropriate authorities and allowed Bohonyi on campus after his firing, writing to the court that “Ohio State exercised reasonable care to conducted (sic) a prompt and thorough investigation of plaintiff’s allegations and implemented appropriate administrative, corrective and disciplinary actions.”
An Ohio State spokesperson declined to comment. Attorneys for the diver did not respond to a request for comment.
When granting additional discovery time, the judge noted several disputes of fact between parties that can only be resolved with further evidence-gathering, including the extent to which Ohio State was aware that Bohonyi posed a risk to athletes.
In a performance review months before Bohonyi began abusing the diver in early 2014, his supervisor wrote that Bohonyi needed to work on “professionalism appropriate for this environment.” When Ohio State interviewed Bohonyi during the investigation into his relationship with the diver, he admitted he was previously advised not to be “buddy-buddy with athletes” and that “lines were crossed,” according to interview notes included in the court filing.
In her complaint, the diver’s attorneys described months of manipulation and abuse, with Bohonyi forcing the diver to commit sexual acts in his car before and after diving practices and threatening her position on the team if she didn’t comply.
“Bohonyi psychologically coerced [the diver] into believing that she was required to perform sexual services in exchange for her continued involvement in diving,” the complaint read. “He preyed on her age, vulnerability, and dreams of becoming an Olympian, and used the power structure and imbalance of power (coach/athlete) to make her believe she was required to sexually submit to him in exchange for her chance to represent Team USA.”
Ohio State’s investigation concluded that it could not determine whether Bohonyi and the diver engaged in sexual acts, but it fired Bohonyi for his inappropriate relationship with her. The university revoked Bohonyi’s access to the aquatic center and said he was not permitted to be on campus after August 2014.
The diver’s attorneys, however, have claimed he continued to abuse the diver on campus for nearly a year after his firing, and that the university was either aware of his presence or negligent in ensuring he didn’t return to campus. Further, attorneys alleged Ohio State did not explain to diving club families why Bohonyi was fired, nor did it disclose that he presented a possible risk to underage athletes.
“It was determined today that Will will not be returning to the Ohio State Diving Club,” an email to parents on the day of Bohonyi’s firing read. “We understand that many of you (and your divers) have formed strong relationships with Will and have appreciated his contributions. I can assure you that this decision was not taken lightly.”
By not conveying the nature of Bohonyi’s misconduct to families, the diver’s attorneys argued that Ohio State enabled Bohonyi to continue working with divers in private lessons and attending USA Diving events, making it impossible for the diver to continue in her sport.
The diver was recruited by Ohio State and intended to enroll, but because Bohonyi was still active in the local diving community, she decided to attend another Big Ten university. She eventually retired from diving because of Bohonyi’s abuse, the complaint read, despite being tagged from a young age as a future Olympian.
Ohio State was originally named in a 2018 lawsuit in Indiana alongside USA Diving and Bohonyi, but Ohio State objected to the venue, causing the diver to sue the university in Ohio instead.
Bohonyi is accused in the Indiana lawsuit of sexually abusing multiple divers, all of whom competed for USA Diving clubs. The clubs, like the Ohio State Diving Club, funnel into the national program and present the only path for athletes to the Olympic trials.
The Ohio State Diving Club operated out of Ohio State’s recreation department and offered lessons through high school age and ran a year-round competitive diving team. In July 2020, the Buckeye Aquatic Academy, which hosts both the swim and diving clubs, announced it would suspend operations due to the pandemic. In January 2021, the academy disbanded altogether.
Bohonyi pleaded guilty to sexual battery in 2019 and was sentenced to four years in prison, but a judge released him in 2021 due to medical conditions putting him at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19.