USA Water Polo Pays $14 Million to Settle Lawsuit Involving Sexual Abuse of Girls By Prominent National Coach

(Rose Palmisano/The Orange County Register via AP)

A settlement was reached last Friday in a lawsuit brought in California state court against USA Water Polo and the International Water Polo Club in California involving allegations that a male coach for the National Team and California club, Bahram Hojreh, had sexually assaulted and abused them during the period 2012 to 2017.

Thirty-plus years in law enforcement experience and close working associations with investigators who deal with these kinds of crimes leads to one simple fact — pedophiles will always gather where they find the easiest access to children that involves the least risk of exposure.  Unsupervised coaching of youth sports is way up near the top of that list.

Hojreh is currently facing 34 counts of sexual abuse involving ten victims, nine of whom were children at the time they were assaulted. The abuse took place during one-on-one coaching sessions with the girls, all of whom aspired to play water polo at the highest levels.  National sports federations like USA Water Polo are responsible for fielding Olympics and other national teams competing internationally on behalf of the United States.

There were 12 girls listed as plaintiffs in the civil suit that was settled.  The $14 million payout will be funded by insurers of USA Water Polo and the International Water Polo Club.

The criminal charges pending against Hojreh include allegations that he committed lewd acts on a child, engaged in sexual penetration with a foreign object, as well as engaging in sexual battery by fraud.  That allegation relates to claims that the victims were not aware they were being molested because Hojreh told them his “touching served a professional purpose.”

USA Water Polo has its headquarters in Irvine, California.  International Water Polo Club is based in Orange County, California.  The lawsuit alleged that both, along with Irvine School District where Hojreh also coached, ignored warning signs of abuse going back as far as 2008.

USA Water Polo was facing civil suits for negligence under California law for failing to act upon reports in the summer of 2017 that Hojreh’s players at the International Club were sexually abusing opposing players during matches.  By not acting on the complaints, Hojreh remained in his position for an additional eight months.

Some critics of USA Water Polo claim the settlement is really intended to help USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey keep his position.

“It’s all spin to keep Ramsey in his job,” said Morgan Stewart, an attorney for the women. “They’re trying to justify keeping him in his job while agreeing to a $14 million settlement.”

Ramsey and other top USA Water Polo officials received at least four reports between July 10 and 14, 2017 that outline allegations or allege that players coached by Hojreh repeatedly sexually assaulted young girls from at least five teams during tournaments that summer by grabbing or trying to penetrate their vaginas, according to documents obtained by the Southern California News Group. The survivors in the civil suit allege they were sexually assaulted by Hojreh in a similar matter, and that USA Water Polo would have detected the abuse had the organization conducted a thorough investigation into the coach.

While USA Water Polo officials forwarded reports and complaints about the 2017 incidents to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, they did not report the incidents to law enforcement or Child Protective Services even though under California law and SafeSport code they are mandated reporters of sexual abuse and the organization’s chief executive only months later would tell a U.S. Senate subcommittee that the NGB’s protocol was to immediately alert law enforcement, according to depositions, emails, letters and sworn declarations obtained by SCNG.

Ramsey and another USA Water Polo official are under investigation by the U.S. Center for SafeSport for failing to report the 2017 incidents to law enforcement or CPS.

Sexual abuse of minors by youth coaches at the very top of national sporting associations such as USA Water Polo has rocked the sporting world over the past few years.  The highest-profile case involved Larry Nassar, a doctor for the U.S. Gymnastics, who was convicted of abusing dozens of young female gymnasts, including Olympic Gold Medalists. Nassar is serving a long prison sentence for his sexual abuse.

Hojreh is one of ten people affiliated with USA Water Polo who has been banned from the sport since 2018 due to criminal matters.

These coaches who rise to the very pinnacle of youth coaching feel untouchable because thousands of parents of the most elite youth athletes seek them out each year to train their sons and daughters.

This takes me back to the point I made above: Pedophiles will always gather where they find the easiest access to children that involves the least risk of exposure. Unsupervised coaching of youth sports is way up near the top of that list.