US Olympic fencing organization failed to prevent sexual abuse of Nashville athlete – Tennessee Lookout

Officials from USA Fencing, the sport’s national governing body, knew Nashville’s first fencing coach was engaging in sexually inappropriate and abusive behavior, but failed to act before the wanted instructor sexually abused of a 13 year old girl. over a two-year period, a lawsuit filed in federal court alleges.

Coach Robert Piraino was indicted by a Nashville grand jury last year on 108 counts involving sex crimes against the girl, who is now 16. In June of this year, while on bail, Piraino was re-arrested on additional sexual battery charges involving a 17-year-old male athlete. Piraino, 38, is being held in a Davidson County jail. Piraino and his training facility, Music City Fencing Club, are also named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Nashville by the girl and her parents – using pseudonyms to protect the family’s privacy – alleges the girl was coerced into sending increasingly sexualized photos of herself -even to Piraino, who waived her fees, bought her gear, gave her money, and pressured her by reminding her that her family was struggling financially due to the pandemic. Then, according to the lawsuit, his behavior escalated.

The lawsuit references sex abuse scandals in USA Gymnastics, the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church.

Piraino has been influential in the world of elite fencing, coaching girls and boys at the Music City Fencing Club in Nashville, a USA Fencing-approved facility that has attracted hundreds of young athletes. Music City Fencing has hosted USA Fencing-sanctioned tournaments and camps, its students have regularly qualified for regional and national competitions, and the club has received numerous National Group Achievement Awards, according to the lawsuit. Piraino has also held positions of authority within USA Fencing, including as regional and national coordinator.

Robert Piraino, former Music City Fencing Club coach. Photo: Nashville Metro Police Department

“For a young fencer from Nashville who wanted to pursue a career as a college or Olympic fencer, there was no real alternative to Music City Fencing,” the lawsuit said. “Piraino, with the knowledge and consent of USA Fencing, has become the most powerful person in the Tennessee fencing community.”

Still, Piraino’s inappropriate behavior towards his young students was no secret, according to the lawsuit. He would attend social gatherings with underage fencers, supplying them with alcohol. Fellow coaches — who, like Piraino, were members of USA Fencing — overheard Piraino joke about “engaging in criminal sexual activity with young fencers.” An unnamed coach quoted in the suit said: “‘If Piraino was serious about some of the things he said, he would have to spend the rest of his life in prison. “”

And, according to the lawsuit, “before or while Piraino sexually abused Jane Doe (the pseudonym of the girl in the lawsuit), USA Fencing was in possession of information regarding Piraino’s sexually inappropriate and abusive behavior…” The lawsuit no. did not detail what information about Piraino would have caught the attention of the national group.

A spokesperson for USA Fencing said it could not comment on specifics of the ongoing litigation, but described ongoing and new efforts to keep its athletes safe.

“I want to emphasize that the safety of our fencers is our top priority,” spokesman Bryan Wendell wrote on Tuesday. “USA Fencing will never stop working to create a safe and positive environment for the physical, emotional and social development of athletes – and to ensure that we foster and promote an environment free of misconduct.”

The organization publicly posts a list of ineligible and banned individuals, names that are also shared via email with members. Piraino has been banned by USA Fencing since September 23, 2021, Wendell noted. The group conducts annual background checks and requires coaches to undergo annual training through the United States Center for Safesport, an independent entity created by Congress in 2018 to provide training to Olympic sports organizations and investigate allegations of abuse. ‘abuse. The organization communicates regularly about how to report misconduct to its members, Wendell said.

Starting this season, all coaches and members working in a national tournament will be required to complete SafeSport sexual harassment prevention training, a requirement that goes beyond what is mandated by SafeSport, Wendell noted. And USA Fencing is also working on other initiatives, including education for minors and a certificate training program for coaches.

Aaron Rothbaum, Piraino’s public defender in his criminal case, declined to comment and a phone number for Music City Fencing was disconnected. Gary Blackburn, the Nashville-based attorney representing the girl and her parents, and Decatur, Georgia-based attorney George Smith, also declined to comment on the litigation.

Once Piraino began receiving photos of the girl in nude or semi-nude poses, her demands escalated, according to the lawsuit. He texted and SnapChat the girl almost daily and at random times, sending thousands of messages, including sexually inappropriate videos, according to the lawsuit.

Among the allegations: Piraino allegedly told the girl to go to the locker room after practice and take pictures of herself using a phone he left in a locker. Sometimes he would leave clothes in the locker asking the girl to wear the clothes while taking selfies. He sent the girl pictures of women in sexually suggestive poses and demanded that she take pictures of herself impersonating them. He demanded and received videos of the naked girl. He then told her that he intended to sell the videos and photos online.

When the girl resisted Piraino’s demands, he physically punished her by having her perform during fencing practice in a way that aggravated her sports injuries, the lawsuit alleges.

Piraino also sent the girl explicit videos of himself masturbating and having sex with other women, according to the lawsuit. In one instance, he sent the girl a video of him receiving oral sex from another girl he said was underage, according to the lawsuit.

During fencing practice, he touched the girl inappropriately and insisted on giving her massages during which he fondled her while “groaning and moaning sexually”, according to the lawsuit.

The abuse ended after “it became clear to Jane Doe that Piraino was setting her up to be raped”, telling the girl that at an upcoming 2021 summer fencing camp he would “have her practice manual and oral sex on him in the Music City Fencing locker room,” the lawsuit said. He told her his camp fees would be waived, according to the suit.

The girl texted Piraino shortly after – while she was temporarily lying with a shoulder injury – to stop contacting her.

The abuse she suffered was revealed months later to a therapist sought by her parents, who were concerned about their daughter’s increasingly disturbing behavior, which included involuntary tics, pulling her own hair and unusual academic difficulties.

The disclosure led to Piraino’s arrest by Metro Nashville police on August 9, 2021.

Nude photographs of the girl have since been distributed online, the lawsuit said. They were also shared with a former fencing coach and member of USA Fencing and with a “known provider of Internet child pornography,” who distributed them to others, according to the lawsuit.

“USA Fencing’s promotion and public endorsement of Piraino was based on a fantasy,” the lawsuit said of Piraino’s former top position in the sport.

“The reality is that while USA Fencing was making Piraino the face of the sport for the Southeast region of the United States, he was assaulting underage fencers, getting drunk with underage fencers, having sexually explicit dialogue with underage fencers via SMS and SnapChat. , speaking openly with other coaches about his desire to engage in criminal sexual activity with underage fencers, and flagrantly failing to enforce and violate SafeSport and USA Fencing policies regarding sexual misconduct and abuse .

US Fencing Trial by Anita Wadhwani on Scribd

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