Aja Evans, a 2014 Olympic bobsled bronze medalist, has filed a lawsuit alleging that a doctor who worked on Team USA’s medical staff subjected her to nearly a decade of sexual abuse and harassment during treatment.
The doctor, Jonathan Wilhelm, a chiropractor who resides in Montana, as well as the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation were named as defendants in the lawsuit filed on Wednesday (Sept 20) in a state court in upstate New York.
Evans, 35, said in a news release on Thursday that Wilhelm’s “repeated molestation and sexual assault” left her “physically and emotionally damaged, to the point where I experience chronic anxiety and fell out of love with the sport of bobsledding.”
The lawsuit said Wilhelm’s treatment “mirrors the abuse perpetuated” by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor serving a potential 175-year prison sentence following his 2018 conviction for sexually abusing female gymnasts.
Ryan Stevens, a lawyer for Wilhelm, said his client “wholeheartedly denies the detestable claims against him,” and called comparing Wilhelm to Nassar “disgraceful and defamatory.”
The USOPC said it had not reviewed the complaint, but “remains committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes,” including by eliminating abuse.
USA Bobsled said in an email to Reuters that it could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but condemns sexual misconduct and remains committed to promoting a safe environment for all athletes, coaches, staff and volunteers.
According to Evans’ attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, her client suffered “abhorrent and persistent sexual and emotional abuse” at the hands Wilhelm, whom she said was sheltered and enabled by USA Bobsledding and the USOPC’s “culture of silence.”
“Unfortunately, her experience is all too common and is in many ways similar to the widespread sexual abuse USA gymnasts faced by Larry Nassar,” Simpson Tuegel said.
“While nothing can erase the trauma Aja suffered, we are committed to bringing both Mr Wilhelm and the national organisations which enabled his predation to justice.”
The lawsuit said Wilhelm began treating Evans in 2012, and that during the treatment he “touched and groped Ms Evans’ genitals and body in contravention of any applicable medical standards.”
Evans said it was well known among athletes that Wilhelm would, regardless of their injuries, find a reason to “go for the adductor,” a group of muscles located on the inner thighs.
She also alleges that Wilhelm had been reported for videotaping and photographing Evans and others in various states of undress during treatment sessions and prior to competition at the USOPC training facility in Lake Placid, New York.
Evans and her teammate formally reported Wilhelm’s repeated non-consensual photography in 2017 to USA Bobsled, but the USOPC and USA Bobsled dismissed the complaint and failed to initiate any sort of investigation, according to the lawsuit.
“Rather than being protected, believed, and taken seriously, Ms Evans was subjected to investigation and degradation by the USOPC and USA Bobsled governing bodies,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for pain and suffering, medical damages and other harm, plus punitive damages.
Evans won a bronze medal in the two-woman bobsled at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
In November 2022, Evans received a two-year ban from bobsledding for not submitting a sample during an out-of-competition drug test the previous March.