NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal lawsuit says USA Fencing, the national governing body for the sport, failed to protect a Tennessee teenager from sexual abuse over a two-year period.
The girl and her parents filed suit last month against the Colorado-based organization as well as her former coach, Robert Piraino, and the Nashville business he owned and ran, Music City Fencing Club.
Piraino, 38, was indicted last year by a grand jury on 108 counts of alleged sex crimes involving the girl, authorities have said. He is currently lodged at a Nashville jail.
The lawsuit, first reported by Tennessee Lookout, says Piraino, a prominent USA Fencing member coach, began pressuring the girl for photos when she was 13 and offered financial compensation when she was reluctant to send them.
In response to the increasing pressure, the girl “sent Piraino dozens of photos of herself naked or semi-naked in sexually suggestive positions,” the lawsuit said. After he established a regular pattern, his behavior escalated and he began to touch her inappropriately, it said.
The lawsuit says USA Fencing should have done more to prevent abuse of the girl, who is now 16 and "has suffered serious and severe emotional injuries as a result of Defendants’ negligence, including anxiety, depression, stress, grief, humiliation, and loss of innocence," the lawsuit said.
USA Fencing spokesperson Bryan Wendell said the organization could not comment on pending litigation, but it does makes safety a priority for participants.
“USA Fencing conducts annual background checks and requires annual SafeSport training for all our USA Fencing member coaches as part of our SafeSport and Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies,” he said in a statement. “We also communicate with our membership how to report potential acts of misconduct, and we take all reported allegations seriously."
A lawyer for Piraino in his criminal case did not respond to an email seeking comment about the lawsuit.