BY: Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller | IN: Sexual Assault
Aja Evans, a renowned Olympic bobsled medalist who clinched a bronze medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, has filed a lawsuit claiming a team chiropractor sexually assaulted her. Her lawsuit, filed in Essex County, New York, also seeks damages and accountability from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation for their negligent failure to protect her and other athletes.
This distressing case has sent another round of shockwaves through the sports world, raising serious concerns about athlete safety and the responsiveness of sports organizations to such allegations.
Aja Evans has accused Jonathan Wilhelm, a chiropractor affiliated with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, of repeatedly sexually assaulting her under the guise of providing necessary medical treatment and athletic support. According to her 31-page complaint, the assaults began in 2012 when she joined the USA Bobsled-Skeleton Federation team and continued in various forms until 2022.
Evans alleges that Wilhelm touched her genitals without her consent while performing “treatments” and took inappropriate photographs of her without permission. Evans’ allegations of sexual abuse disguised as medical treatment closely resemble the allegations against Larry Nassar, the infamous sports doctor accused of abusing over 100 young female gymnasts who pled guilty to multiple charges of criminal sexual conduct. These and other similar allegations suggest a profoundly troubling pattern within the world of sports medicine.
Perhaps equally troubling is Evans’ assertion that the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Bobsled did not take her accusations seriously. Evans alleges that instead of believing and protecting her, these organizations subjected her to intrusive investigation and degradation.
Evans claims she and her fellow athletes reported Wilhelm’s inappropriate behavior, including taking unauthorized photographs, during their preparation for the 2018 Olympics, but their complaints were ignored. Neither the Olympic Committee nor USA Bobsled launched an investigation in response to these reports, leaving the athletes feeling dismissed and afraid to speak out.
The lawsuit contends these organizations failed in their duty to oversee the well-being of athletes and failed to protect them from harm. These failures compounded Evans’ trauma and potentially silenced other victims of abuse.
Following the 2018 Olympics, Evans chose to step away from the sport but came out of retirement to earn a spot on the 2022 Olympic bobsled team. Despite the history of ongoing abuse and exploitation, Evans had no choice but to continue working with Wilhelm.
During a training session in December 2021, she suffered a severe crash that caused significant physical injuries and mental distress. Even during this traumatic event, she alleges that Wilhelm continued touching her inappropriately and taking pictures without her consent.
One year later, during a national competition, Evans claims that Wilhelm disregarded her clear directive not to treat her and approached her while she laid on an examination table. She jumped off the table in an attempt to escape his unwanted advances.
Wilhelm released a statement denying the allegations and stating that he looks forward to defending himself in court. However, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Bobsled Defendants have not yet commented publicly on the lawsuit or the possibility of an internal investigation.
The organizations have stated their commitment to athlete safety and support for investigations conducted by the U.S. Center for SafeSport (USCSS). The U.S. Olympic organization began the Safe Sport program in 2011 to address widespread abuse allegations against USA Swimming coaches and trainers. USCSS became an independent organization in 2017, investigating allegations of abuse and recommending protocols to protect athletes.
Evans’ complaint alleges that the Olympics and USA Bobsled Defendants negligently failed to take appropriate steps to respond to reports of abuse, investigate complaints, implement safety protocols, and protect the athletes in their organizations.
This case sheds light on the ongoing challenges of protecting the safety of Olympic athletes. It highlights the need for robust reporting mechanisms and swift, transparent investigations into misconduct allegations. Athletes should feel confident that their voices will be heard, their concerns taken seriously, and their safety prioritized.
Moreover, it underscores the broader issue of accountability within sports organizations. The organizations’ failure to address such serious allegations promptly and thoroughly perpetuates harm to individual athletes and damages the reputation and integrity of the sports world as a whole.
As this case unfolds, it serves as a reminder of the urgent need for reforms to protect athletes and ensure that the institutions entrusted with their care fulfill their responsibilities diligently. Lawsuits brought by survivors of abuse against the systems that enabled it can help uncover wrongdoing, demand accountability, and protect generations of future athletes.
If you are an athlete who has been sexually abused or assaulted by a coach, physician, or healthcare provider, you should consult an experienced attorney. Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller has extensive experience helping athletes hold sports organizations accountable. We will handle your case with compassion, empathy, and sensitivity. An initial no-obligation consultation is confidential and free.
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Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller represents injury victims in personal injury and medical malpractice claims. She also represents individuals in cases against those who have committed horrific acts of sexual assault.