August 9, 2017
A Los Angeles Superior Court awarded $20 million to each of the three women who sued their former taekwondo instructor for sexually abusing them while they were minors. The $60-million default judgment against Marc Scott Gitelman was awarded by a superior court judge after Gitelman failed to respond to an amended complaint in a 2015 civil lawsuit filed by the women.
Molestation Began in 2007
The three women alleged that Gitelman molested them from 2007 until his arrest on sexual assault charges in 2014. The lawsuit claimed that on multiple occasions, Gitelman invited the young athletes to his hotel room to watch videos of their previous taekwondo matches and then sexually abused them.
Gitelman and his taekwondo students traveled to competitions throughout California and Nevada, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. He’d took the girls to these tournaments without chaperones and without any policies as to the hotel accommodations.
The lawsuit stated that Gitelman “did not attempt to hide his relationships with the various plaintiffs” and the defendants “were aware that female taekwondo athletes, and Olympic level athletes in general were frequently victims of sexual molestation by their coaches yet did nothing to protect these athletes from such abuse.”
The civil suit also named as defendants several athletic organizations that were part of the girls’ competitions. The plaintiffs said that these groups failed to protect them from the molestations by their coach. The promising Olympians competed in tournaments associated with the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo. The women say that the organizations failed to enforce policies and procedures to prevent the abuse. The girls stayed on the same floor as their coach at a training facility’s dorms, and there were no chaperones or policies in place.
The women have appealed the judge’s decision to dismiss these claims against the USOC and USA Taekwondo.
Detailed Allegations Against the Instructor
Specifically, the 2015 lawsuit alleges that Gitelman forced one of the girls to perform oral sex while driving her to the International Taekwondo Festival in California in May 2008. When they arrived at their hotel, Gitelman invited her to his room to watch videos of her previous taekwondo fights. The lawsuit claims that Gitelman gave her alcohol and molested her. The same athlete was molested again in 2009 at the Olympic Training Center dorms in Colorado Springs, according to the complaint. It also details a meet sponsored by the Olympic Committee and other organizations in 2010, where Gitelman invited two of the plaintiffs to his hotel room to play a drinking game. One of the girls was intoxicated and laying on Gitelman’s bed when the other girl witnessed him touch her inappropriately. After helping the intoxicated girl back to her hotel room, the other plaintiff returned to Gitelman’s room. He served her more alcohol, and then, according to the lawsuit, he then forced her to lie on his bed, where he sexually abused her.
Two of the girls made a formal complaint in 2014 with USA Taekwondo, the governing body of the sport in the U.S. Subsequently, the two girls and a third victim told the police about the abuse.
One of the plaintiffs, Kendra Gatt, now 23, commented that the judgment is a step forward for her, “I feel like I lost my time and energy, and my mental health was directed in a different way throughout the years at the trial, criminal [case] and moving into civil.”
She started taekwondo at age 11 and had a goal of making it to the Olympics. She didn’t tell her parents about being abused for two years. She came forward only after seeing a Facebook post from another plaintiff who described being in an “odd predicament” with her taekwondo coach.
“When I discovered that I wasn’t the only one that it happened to, I put some pieces together and realized I wasn’t going to be the last either,” she said. “I decided to voice what happened to me because I never wanted it to happen to any other girl or athlete in general.”
Gatt now studies biology at UNLV and said that after she stopped training with Gitelman at 16, she didn’t want to continue practicing martial arts.
“I couldn’t as a 16-year-old come to terms with my feeling of what was happening,” she said. “I tried again with a different instructor months later and I just didn’t feel the same. I kind of lost a little passion in it.”
Gitelman Sentenced in 2015
A Pomona jury convicted Gitelman of multiple felony counts, including oral copulation of a minor, unlawful sexual intercourse, and lewd acts upon a child. He was sentenced in October 2015 to more than four years in state prison. In addition, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Bruce Marrs ordered Gitelman to register as a lifetime sex offender.
Gitelman is appealing his conviction.
If your child has been seriously injured or has been the victim of any kind of sexual abuse, such as inappropriate contact by a coach, contact a law firm with a reputation for fierce client advocacy and an unwavering commitment to results. The dedicated lawyers at The Cifarelli Law Firm, LLP, have been fighting for the rights of children in California and across the United States for more than 25 years. We seek maximum compensation for our clients and work to ensure that the negligent parties are held accountable for the harm they cause.
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