Former diving club member abused by coach sues Ohio State

A former diver with the now-defunct Ohio State Diving Club has sued the university for failing to properly address and prevent her sexual abuse by former assistant coach Will Bohonyi. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

A former diver with the now-defunct Ohio State Diving Club has sued the university for failing to properly address and prevent her sexual abuse by former assistant coach Will Bohonyi — including multiple rapes she said occurred after she submitted photos and videos of the abuse to the university.

The suit, filed in the Southern District federal court in Ohio Jan. 18, claimed Ohio State failed to adequately investigate complaints against Bohonyi and did not turn evidence over to law enforcement, including sexually explicit videos and photos that Bohonyi both took and forced the diver to take while she was a minor. A class-action suit against Ohio State, USA Diving and Bohonyi was initially filed in Indiana in July 2018, but Ohio State did not consent to the venue, causing the former diving club member to open one in Ohio.

“Bohonyi psychologically coerced [the diver] into believing that she was required to perform sexual services in exchange for her continued involvement in diving,” the lawsuit stated. “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.”

In an emailed statement, university spokesperson Ben Johnson said the university reported the abuse to Franklin County Children Services and that “all relevant information and evidence was shared with the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”

“When Ohio State first received a report regarding a former assistant dive club coach, the university responded immediately and appropriately to remove the coach from campus and protect the safety of our community,” Johnson said.

The statement did not specifically address the allegation that the university possessed and failed to report images of child sexual abuse.

Before it was discontinued, the Ohio State Diving Club provided lessons and hosted a year-round competitive junior diving team for divers up to high school age. It was a Department of Recreational Sports program in the Office of Student Life. The Buckeye Aquatic Academy, which housed both the Ohio State Diving Club and the Ohio State Swim Club, announced in January 2021 that both clubs would be disbanded, citing the pandemic.

Bohonyi did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the lawsuit and other court records, Bohonyi began abusing the diver in July 2014, when she was 16 years old. He coerced her into sending sexually explicit photos of herself and performing sex acts on him, including in his car in the Neil Avenue parking garage on campus.

The lawsuit stated that later that month at a diving competition in Bethesda, Maryland, Bohonyi raped the diver for the first time. A former diving partner of the victim saw sexually explicit messages from Bohonyi on the victim’s phone.

At the Junior National championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, in August 2014, several of the diver’s teammates learned of the abuse and reported it to head coach John Appleman, according to the lawsuit.

The diver was sent home early from the competition as Assistant Director of Recreational Sports aquatics operations Christine Thompson said she was “not representing the club very well,” according to the lawsuit.

Thompson did not respond to a request for comment. She currently serves as the assistant director of aquatics and director of aquatic events at the university.

Thompson’s profile page on the Ohio State Recreational Sports website was live as of Feb. 6, but it was down the day after The Lantern reached out to Thompson regarding an alleged phone call with the diver. The webpage was down at the time of publication.

Appleman was placed on administrative leave and temporarily suspended by USA Diving in July 2018 after the first lawsuit was filed, a month after he was announced as the next head coach of the University of Arizona diving team. The University of Arizona accepted its offer.

USA Diving lifted Appleman’s suspension in August 2018. He could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit claimed Appleman and Thompson reported Bohonyi after the diving team returned from the Nationals meet in early August. The university opened an internal investigation Aug. 11, 2014, into what was described at the time as a “consensual/sexual relationship” between the underage diver and Bohonyi, according to a copy of the investigative report obtained by The Lantern.

The lawsuit claimed that after the investigation began, Bohonyi intimidated the diver into concealing the extent of the abuse. She said in an interview with investigators at the time that the relationship was consensual, according to the investigation report.

She also gave her phone, which had about 700 messages between Bohonyi and the diver, over to University Police. It was at this time the university came into possession of explicit photos and videos of the diver and her abuse, the lawsuit claimed. Sexually explicit images of any person under 18, consensual or not, are considered images of child sexual abuse.

As a result of the investigation, Ohio State could not conclude whether specific sex acts had occurred between Bohonyi and the diver, but determined that they had a “consensual romantic relationship” that was “sexualized in nature,” according to the investigative report. The university fired Bohonyi in August 2014, but he privately coached several diverse on the team. As he was still in close contact with the team following his termination, the lawsuit stated he continued to abuse the diver until March 2015.

“Ohio State had notice of the sexual abuse in 2014, yet allowed Bohonyi to continue to spend time around OSU and its diverse until he was arrested in 2018,” attorney Michael Fradin said. “This is another sad example of how Ohio State does not take the safety of its athletes seriously.”

Johnson said Bohonyi was banned from campus and reported the results of the investigation to USA Diving “immediately upon conclusion of the investigation.”

Bohonyi was permanently banned from USA Diving in February 2015.

Although he was banned from USA Diving, the lawsuit stated Bohonyi frequented diving meets at which the diver competed — deeply affecting her diving career. She gave up her scholarship to Ohio State and could not compete for her school due to Bohonyi attending diving events where she was competing. According to the lawsuit, the diver was granted a protective order against Bohonyi in November 2015.

Bohonyi was indicted on three counts of sexual battery and one count of sexual pandering to a minor in late 2018 after the criminal case was reopened at the diver’s request. In May 2019, he pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery. He was sentenced to four years in prison, but in August 2020 a judge reduced his sentence to six months in a community correctional facility for nonviolent offenders.

After applying for and being granted probation in March 2021, according to court records, Bohonyi faced possible probation revocation in October for violating the terms of his probation, including interacting with minors and reaching out to the victim as recently as May 2021.

A judge reinstated Bohonyi’s probation in November 2021, pending his “strict compliance” with its terms.

The Lantern does not publish the names of sexual violence victims without their permission.

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