Water polo organization settles sex abuse case with players for nearly $14 million.
A dozen female water polo players have settled a lawsuit for nearly $14 million against USA Water Polo and a California club. The plaintiffs had alleged their coach, Bahram Hojreh, 45, sexually abused them in the five-year span from 2012 to 2017, and International Water Polo Club and the national governing body for the sport failed to protect them from the abuse. The settlement is being paid by the parties’ insurers.
“We have heard the plaintiffs’ testimony, and their allegations are heartbreaking,” Christopher Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo, said. “We hope that this allows them to begin a new chapter in their lives.”
In April of this year, the California Supreme Court ruled in a case involving taekwondo Olympians in training that governing organizations have a duty to protect. Attorney Morgan Stewart, representing eleven of the plaintiffs in the water polo case, said the ruling “helped hold USA Water Polo accountable.”
Hojreh, 45, has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of sexual abuse involving ten victims, nine of whom were children at the time. These allegedly occurred during one-on-one coaching sessions. Prosecutors pursued charges including “lewd acts on a child, sexual penetration with a foreign object and sexual battery by fraud (which alleges the victims were not aware they were being molested because the coach said the touching served a professional purpose).”
“He’d get in the pool and tell the girls, ‘This is what’s going to happen in college. You need to get used to this,’” Stewart said. “Then he’d reach under their swimsuits and assault them.”
USA Water Polo was negligent for failing to act upon reports in mid-2017, according to the lawsuit, that “Hojreh’s players at the International club had sexually abused opponents.” Girls on opposing teams said Hojreh’s swimmers “attempted to grab and penetrate their genitals underwater. At one match, another coach accused Hojreh of teaching this to his players.”
In a court filing, USA Water Polo said it sent the claims made from June and July 2017 to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the watchdog formed to handle sex abuse allegations. At the time, however, USA Water Polo said it had not received complaints that Hojreh had sexually abused his players. It suspended him from the organization when it first got reports about his alleged abuse in January 2018 from SafeSport. Stewart contends leaders at USA Water Polo failed to inform law enforcement even though the organization was required to under California law and the SafeSport code.
Hojreh allegedly continued these lewd acts between July 2017, when the first complaints were submitted, to his eventual arrest in April 2018. H has been permanently banned from water polo by SafeSport and is one of ten people affiliated with USA Water Polo banned since 2018 due to criminal cases. Until 2018, the coach served on the board of directors for the Southern California chapter of USA Water Polo.