Olympic bobsledder sues chiropractor, alleging sex abuse

Bobsledder Aja Evans models the Team USA Beijing winter Olympics opening ceremony uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

LAKE PLACID — Bobsled athlete Aja Evans, who won a bronze medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, filed a lawsuit alleging that she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a doctor on Team USA’s staff over a period of nine years. According to the lawsuit, several of the most notable occasions of abuse by Dr. Jonathan Wilhelm occurred at the USOPC facility at 196 Old Military Road in Lake Placid.

Filed in Essex County Court on Sept. 20, the lawsuit names as defendants the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Dr. Jonathan Wilhelm and Pro Chiropractic — Wilhelm’s Montana practice. Wilhelm was still treating athletes at the time the lawsuit was filed.

Wilhelm has been a chiropractor since 2004, specializing in sports medicine, and owns several clinics in Montana. He has worked for Team USA since 2012, providing treatment to USA Track and Field, USA Gymnastics and USA Bobsled and Skeleton.

The lawsuit alleges that Wilhelm first sexually harassed and sexually assaulted Evans in 2012. While treating Evans, Wilhelm would “under the guise of providing treatment, expose and touch her inner genital area and inner groin.” Wilhelm would also focus his treatment on Evans’s adductor muscles — her inner thighs — despite Evans never expressing any need for adductor treatment. The lawsuit said that Wilhelm was allegedly known amongst athletes for trying to find a reason to treat their adductors. Wilhelm allegedly abused Evans during the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation North American Cup and the 2013-14 Bobsleigh World Cup, both of which took place in Lake Placid in December 2013.

Evans and unnamed teammates were also allegedly photographed by Wilhelm without their consent. The women wrote a complaint letter to the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation during the 2016-17 end of season review, but the letter did not result in an investigation, the lawsuit says. In one instance detailed in the lawsuit, Evans and teammates were undressing in the start house before competition at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games when Wilhelm allegedly propped up his phone “so as to record them as they undressed.” Wilhelm was allegedly caught photographing the women on “at least three occasions” and was reported to USA Bobsled and USOPC. The lawsuit claims that Wilhelm would “continuously, obsessively and compulsively” photograph Evans in various states, including while training, in treatment and in the sauna. Evans believes that he photographed her while he sexually abused her during “treatment,” as well. Bobsled team members, including Evans, suggested other providers to USA Bobsled and hired a separate chiropractor at their own expense. Wilhelm was retained as a care provider for USA Bobsled.

Evans claims to have decided to retire following the 2018 Winter Olympic Games due to Wilhelm’s sexual abuse and harassment. However, she came out of retirement in 2021 in time for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. On Dec. 3, 2021, Evans crashed into a wall during a training session in Germany, needing about 30 stitches on her face. Evans was initially unconscious following the crash. The lawsuit claims that, when she came to in a vehicle en route to the hospital, Wilhelm was at her side “touching her as she came out of her unconsciousness.” Later, while Evans was treated by hospital staff, Wilhelm allegedly interfered with her medical care and attempted to take photos of her as she was being cared for.

The lawsuit alleges that Evans was further abused by Wilhelm during bobsled training in Lake Placid in July 2022 and at the USABS Bobsled National Push Championships in the fall of 2022. The lawsuit did not claim any further abuse following late 2022, as Evans is currently under a two-year suspension that took effect in November 2022 following her failure to take an anti-doping drug test in March 2022.

Evans is seeking a jury trial. Since most of the alleged abuse took place in Lake Placid, the suit was filed with the state Supreme Court in Essex County.

USA Bobsled and Skeleton released a statement about the lawsuit on Sept. 21.

“While we are unable to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit or any ongoing investigations, USABS condemns sexual misconduct,” the statement said. “These types of matters fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and law enforcement. USABS is fully supportive and cooperative of all investigations conducted by SafeSport. USABS remains committed to promoting a safe and respectful environment for all athletes, coaches, staff and volunteers.”

Wilhelm denied all allegations of abuse in a statement made though his counsel on Sept. 21.

“Dr. Wilhelm wholeheartedly denies the detestable claims against him,” attorney Ryan J. Stevens said in the statement. “He has not yet had the opportunity to defend any of these baseless claims in court or through the litigation process, but he looks forward to doing so.”

A defendant has 21 days after they are served court summons and a copy of the complain to answer the complaint. As of deadline Monday, Wilhelm has not yet done so.

This is not the first time Wilhelm as been accused of a crime. In November 2020, he and his wife pled guilty to tax evasion after understating their taxable income by $284,691 total for tax years 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018. The Wilhelms were sentenced to three years probation, which was shortened to one year in April 2022.

Sexual abuse in sports

Evans is not alone in her allegations of sexual abuse during her time in sport.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport, a Denver-based nonprofit, was created by Congress in 2017 to address abuse against athletes in light of the Larry Nassar case.

The center released a survey in 2021 that found that among nearly 4,000 adult athletes polled, 9% of athletes said they experienced inappropriate sexual contact during their sports involvement. A majority of those athletes — 93% — said they did not report it. Nearly half of athletes also said they had knowledge of coaches who developed a sexual relationship with an athlete they coached as a minor.

In 2016, the Indianapolis Star reported that there had been at least 368 allegations of sexual abuse by USA Gymnastics gymnasts in the past 20 years at a rate of one every 20 days. The newspaper reported at the time that that figure was likely an undercount. As of 2017, more than 290 coaches and officials associated with Team USA have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since 1982, according to the Washington Post. This figure came from a review of those coaches and officials banned by sport governing bodies as well as news clips and court records.

Larry Nassar, a former U.S. gymnastics physician, was accused in 2017 of assaulting at least 250 women and girls since 1992. He was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison in 2017, 175 years in a Michigan state prison in 2018, and an additional 40 to 125 years in state prison in 2018, according to the Indianapolis Star. Following the Nassar conviction, USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in an effort to help resolve the related lawsuits.

SafeSport investigates and resolves abuse and misconduct reports throughout USOPC. It also develops policies, procedures and training to prevent future abuse. However, SafeSport has been criticized as recently as Monday, Oct. 9 for its failure to adequately investigate abuse allegations.

Cindy Parlow Cone, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, wrote for USA Today on Monday that “SafeSport must evolve to meet its commendable objectives.”

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