Colorado Springs-based USA Taekwondo executives took no action against a star coach who allegedly raped and sexually abused a teenage national champion, telling the girl they could not help her because the rapes took place overseas during tournaments, a lawsuit filed Tuesday states.
The coach, Jin Suh, was named the USA Taekwondo coach of the year in 2007, the same year he allegedly raped the girl he coached, according to the lawsuit. He remains a coach in good-standing with USA Taekwondo, operating three separate USA Taekwondo-sanctioned gyms in New York, according to the lawsuit.
Suh, USA Taekwondo and David Askinas, the former chief executive officer of USA Taekwondo, are named as defendants.
Officials with USA Taekwondo did not return messages seeking comment. Suh, who has not been charged with any crimes, denied the allegations of rape. Askinas, who left his post as CEO of USA Taekwondo in 2011 amid allegations of improper treatment of another female athlete, declined to comment.
The lawsuit, filed by Indianapolis attorney Jon Little in Queens County Supreme Court in New York City, follows a federal lawsuit filed in 2018 on behalf of four women who alleged USA Taekwondo engaged in sex trafficking. The 2018 lawsuit, which is pending, contends USA Taekwondo failed to protect those four athletes and forced them to compete alongside Jean and Steven Lopez, former star athletes in the sport now accused of sexual misconduct and assaults.
The lawsuit filed this week mirrors the earlier lawsuit in some respects. It alleges Suh took advantage of an elite female athlete he had coached beginning when she was 9 years old, and that USA Taekwondo failed to protect her from sexual abuse. It states that in 2005, after the girl won a national championship for the U.S. National Team for Taekwondo when she was 15, Suh took the girl to his home upon their return to New York and asked her about her sexual experiences, then sat her on his lap while he was aroused.
The lawsuit continues that in 2005, Suh forced the girl to perform oral sex on him, an encounter that was interrupted when another student entered the academy for training. Suh would go on to rape the girl in 2006 during tournaments in Thailand and Argentina, according to the lawsuit.
“This is a case about a young, elite martial artist who was molested and raped on multiple occasions by her coach and about the leadership of a National Governing Body that allowed it to happen,” the lawsuit states. “It is about holding accountable the corporations and executives that make millions of dollars off the sweat, blood and tears of the young people in their charge.”
The lawsuit states that USA Taekwondo has “written documents confirming” the alleged rapes were reported to the organization and its CEO at the time, Askinas. It alleges USA Taekwondo failed to provide adequate safeguards. The organization did not adequately educate its athletes about appropriate personal boundaries, or organize chaperones during event competitions or arrange proper housing arrangements on those trips, the lawsuit states.
In 2008-2009, USA Taekwondo removed a female board president after she tried to amend the bylaws to bar coaches from having sexual relationships with athletes, the lawsuit alleges.
In response to the allegations of rape against Suh, USA Taekwondo offered to let the girl train elsewhere, and she was forced to relocate and train with the Lopez brothers in Houston, the lawsuit alleges. By that time, USA Taekwondo knew the Lopez brothers also had been been accused of raping many other female athletes, according to the lawsuit.
Little said that six weeks ago he alerted legal counsel for USA Taekwondo he planned to file the lawsuit. He said days later USA Taekwondo suspended Suh from his sanctioned status as a coach, but he has since been reinstated by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the organization created in the wake of sex abuse scandals of Olympic athletes as a protective measure.
Little said the U.S. Center for SafeSport wants the woman he is representing to submit a statement and subject herself to cross examination before acting on her allegations. He said the organization instead should suspend Suh and collect its own evidence by participating in the discovery unearthed through the litigation. He said he fears the organization will use any statement form the woman he is representing to help USA Taekwondo protect itself from allegations of negligence.
“My overall opinion is that SafeSport works really well when the accusations involve a coach who is a nobody, but when it comes to going after the coaches who produce medals and money, it doesn’t do anything,” Little said. “In the Olympics sports world that’s just how things work because athletes are expandable. There’s always new ones coming.”
Dan Hill, a spokesperson for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, said the organization works to protect athletes and encouraged those who have been abused to report what occurred.
"The center takes it role to hold individuals accountable for abuse seriously, and it has done so hundreds of times, including high-profile individuals and their sports," Hill said. "The center encourages people to follow the code, which is not only to eliminate but also to report any alleged abuse and to suggest that people not report to the center is irresponsible and undermines the mission that we should all be standing behind."