US Taekwondo Stars Accused Of Decades Of Rape, Sex Trafficking

The minor female athletes had to call the Lopez brothers “master,” bow to them and to submit to their sexual demands. If they refused, their career was over.


The U.S. Olympics Committee is once again sparking controversy, this time for covering up reports of sexual assault of minor athletes by two of its legendary taekwondo athletes.

Steven Lopez, who has won three Olympic medals and five World Championships, and his brother Jean Lopez, who has coached the U.S. Taekwondo team for three Olympic Games, are being accused of sexual assault, rape, sex trafficking and other misconduct by five women, according to a lawsuit.

The class-action lawsuit also alleges the United States Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo covered up the Lopez brothers’ misconduct as they traveled across the world and exploited young women.

Starting from 1996 or 1997 and continuing till 2018, USA Taekwondo and the USOC acted as travel agent and commercial sponsors for the Lopez brothers and trafficked numerous female athletes around the world to be used for their sexual gratification, according to the accusations.

If the young athletes wanted to compete in the Olympics and stay on Team USA, they had to call the Lopez brothers “master,” bow to them and to submit to their sexual demands, the lawsuit says. If they refused their advances, the girls were suspended, benched or throw off the team by the brothers or by USA Taekwondo and USOC.

The original complaint was filed in April by plaintiff, Heidi Gilbert, and only accused Jean Lopez. However, three more alleged survivors, Amber Means, Mandy Meloon, and Gabriela Joslin, have come forward and added Steven Lopez, USOC and USA Taekwondo as defendants.

Gilbert competed at the Pan-Am Championships in 2002. She alleged Jean Lopez wrestled her to her bed, humped against her and then ejaculated in his pants. A year later, Gilbert moved in with the Lopez family to train with them for the national team. It was during that time at a party that Lopez grabbed her, grinded his body against her, made sexually explicit comments to her and drugged her, Gilbert says. He then put her into a taxi, groped her, took her to the hotel room, slapped and choked her, digitally penetrated her and performed oral sex on her, according to her.

In 2003, Lopez demanded Gilbert perform oral sex on him and In 2006, the then-CEO of USA Taekwondo warned her not to tell anyone of the incidents, she recalls.

Amber Means was persuaded by the Lopez brothers to move to Texas so they could train with her. Even then, she was warned by her coaches about the brothers’ sexual proclivities. In 2007, Means said Lopez brothers started “grooming” her by brushing against her, rubbing her arms and paying special attention to her. When she was 17, Steven Lopez started a sexual relationship with her — while having sexual relationship with two other teens. At a party in 2008, Means passed out after she drank Gatorade and vodka. When she woke up, she had been raped by Lopez, Means said.

Then, at a party in 2013, Lopez once again drugged Means, pined her to a wall and tried to kiss her, she says. However, this time, she was able to get away. Unfortunately, Steven Lopez ended her taekwondo career because of her rebuff.

Mandy Meloon moved to USOC training center in Colorado when she was 13. In that same year, she started having sexual conversations with Jean Lopez, who was, even at that time, openly sleeping with another minor female athlete, accusers say. During a trip to Korea, Lopez made her sit on his lap and called her his girlfriend. In 1996, when Meloon was 15, she was reportedly raped in her room by another member of USA Taekwondo, Danny Kim. He also later filmed them both having sex. At 17, after repeated sexual encounters, Meloon got pregnant and had to go to Germany to have the fetus aborted. She had to miss competitions to do that and the USOC was fully aware of the reason, but they failed to do anything about it.

Meloon also alleged that at a competition in Egypt, Jean Lopez climbed into her bed and digitally penetrated her. She pretended to be asleep throughout the ordeal. In 1998, when she moved to Texas with the Lopez brothers to train with them, she became embroiled in an abusive relationship with Steven Lopez. According to the lawsuit, Lopez punched her in 2002, beat her in 2004 and raped and beat her in 2005. In 2006, Lopez broke into her apartment where she was sleeping and told her he was afraid she had gotten another boyfriend, she says.

Meloon informed David Askinas, then-CEO of USA TKD, about the incident and John Ruger, the USOC’s athlete ombudsman; however, they did nothing and she was told she wasn’t “credible.”

Gabriela Joslin also accused Steven Lopez of coming to her room in 2006 under the ruse of talking to her about her upcoming match. There, he put on porn and seeing she was not comfortable, started rubbing her glutes. He eventually pinned her down and had intercourse with her, Joslin says. Afterwards, Joslin kept having sex with him, particularly when Jean Lopez told her she was to continue to “cater to Steven.” She alleged she was trained and groomed by Lopez and other coaches.

Years later, when she became a taekwondo coach, Jean Lopez raped her, Joslin says. The incident resulted in an ectopic pregnancy, which required her to get an abortion. She reported the ordeal to the USA Taekwondo in 2015.

These are not the only women who have come forward about the Lopezes. Nina Zampetti said a 22-year-old Lopez once forced her to perform oral sex on his when she was just 14.

The sexual misconduct of both the brothers toward underage athletes was an open secret in the world of taekwondo, even before the Olympics. However, the USOC failed to protect the female athletes and instead, turned a blind eye because the brothers brought in too much money.

Steven Lopez has now been temporarily suspended from representing the United States in international games.

His accusers are relieved by the news but also maintain the brothers as well as USOC and the USA Taekwondo need to be punished for their crimes.

Banner/Thumbnail : Jeff Gross/Getty Images

View Comments

Recommended For You