A lawsuit filed in U.S. district court in Columbia, South Carolina last month has the potential to send shockwaves throughout the Palmetto State’s figure skating community. The action lists an Irmo, S.C.-based ice rink and a skating federation as defendants in connection with a coach who stands accused of sexually assaulting young athletes under their guidance.
This harrowing case not only exposes the alleged misconduct within the facility’s walls but also sheds light on the broader issue of sexual assault in youth sports, prompting a critical examination of safety measures and accountability within the sporting community.
The lawsuit was filed on January 24, 2024 by Rock Hill-based attorney Randy Hood with McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips and Bakari Sellers with Columbia-based Strom Law Firm on behalf of two anonymous Jane Does. Sellers and his firm also represent dozens of victims in lawsuits filed relating to systemic sexual abuse in the American cheerleading industry.
The rink, skating federation and coach remain unnamed at this point, but both attorneys indicated as the lawsuit progresses through the legal system, they anticipate those identities becoming public – bringing about the potential for additional survivors to come forward.
Much like the lawsuits tied to the Cheer Incorporated scandal – which began in Greenville, S.C. in the summer of 2022 – the inclusion of the unnamed skating federation as a defendant indicates belief the organizations tasked with oversight of coaches and ensuring the safety of child athletes has failed… again.
“This is the tip of the iceberg, particularly when it comes to U.S. figure skating, we believe there is some system failures.” Sellers told FITSNews.
Both Jane Does listed in the lawsuit claim the coach — “John Roe? — began grooming them after becoming their private coach. While over the age of eighteen at the time of her assault, Jane Doe 1 resisted his attempts to have sex with Roe because she didn’t want to lose her virginity. The lawsuit claims when the coach she trusted enticed her to a hotel room, she protested again and he anally raped her.
Jane Doe 2 began training with Roe at the age of fourteen. Through an alleged escalating pattern of both physical and psychological abuse, Jane Doe 2 claims Roe encouraged her to restrict her food intake causing an eating disorder while making inappropriate comments about her body and touching her inappropriately. The lawsuit claims the situation ultimately caused her to have a mental breakdown and quit skating entirely.
While discussing the lawsuit with FITSNews, both Hood and Sellers hope to determine if there had been prior complaints about the coach to either the skating federation or U.S. Center for SafeSport — both entities whose primary duty is to keep athletes safe. SafeSport was created in 2017 to reduce the sexual abuse of athletes– especially minors. The establishment of SafeSport after the passage of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 which was a response to revelations of widespread sexual assaults in women’s gymnastics programs.
SafeSport is tasked with investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, emotional abuse, bullying, and harassment by people and organizations associated with U.S. Olympic-sports programs. As of October 2021, the Center had sanctioned 1,100 people. In May 2023, SafeSport reported that it was receiving 150 reports per week, or about 8,000 per year, and had an annual budget of $21 million and a staff of 117 people.
RELATED | CHEER INC. UPDATE
According to the lawsuit, Roe had been coaching for many years and his “maltreatment and abuse” did not begin at the Irmo, S.C. rink. The lawsuit claims both the skating federation and the rink failed in training, supervising and certifying the coach – leading to the abuse of the two athletes. It further claims if a “competent” investigation had been conducted on the coach during the hiring process, his prior bad acts would have been discovered.
Both attorneys are hopeful the process of discovery in this lawsuit will help identify those failures which are “leaving a population of young people vulnerable.”
When asked if those concerns involved monitoring the interactions between the coach and the athletes at the gym, Hood stated, “at the end of the day, you have to have monitoring and supervision and have it being efficient at any entity, any place where a predator is at, in order to help protect a vulnerable population of children.”
“It’s a breach of trust. I mean, I think that’s the word that we have to use here,” Sellers added. “I mean, these parents entrust you, you pay money, and you entrust your young person, I mean, it really, really sucks on its face, when you pay money for your child to be abused.”
As we demonstrated during the Cheer Inc. scandal, our news outlet is committed to holding those accused of crimes against children accountable for their actions.
Anyone willing to share information related to this is encouraged to reach out to Jenn Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or by using our tip line. However you decide to contact us, this news outlet honors requests for anonymity regarding submissions.
THE LAWSUIT …
(U.S. District Court)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at email@example.com.
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.