French Olympic pairs figure skater Morgan Cipres is the subject of a U.S. SafeSport sexual abuse investigation after a 13-year-old girl said he sent lewd photos to her over Instagram, per Christine Brennan of USA Today.
The girl and Cipres both trained at AdventHealth Center Ice rink in Wesley Chapel, Florida. Cipres was 26 years old at the time the girl said he sent the photos.
The girl and her parents said after she told Cipres' coaches, John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana, about the photos, they shamed and threatened her to dissuade reporting the allegations to U.S. SafeSport or other authorities.
The girl and her parents also said another coach at AdventHealth Center Ice, Vinny Dispenza, was involved.
Brennan provided further details:
"On Dec. 3, 2017, Cipres allegedly direct messaged two photos of his penis on Instagram to the girl, who skated at the same rink as Cipres in Wesley Chapel, Fla. USA Today Sports has reviewed those messages, which were sent from what appears to be Cipres’ verified account.
"The girl and her parents said a fourth adult also was involved in the alleged incident. Vinny Dispenza, another coach at the AdventHealth Center Ice rink, allegedly told the girl and another underage girl, whose family could not be reached for comment, to message Cipres asking him to send the photos to the girls in exchange for the promise of a pizza from Dispenza."
Brennan further outlined the girl and her parents' statements regarding Zimmerman and Fontana, who were coaching Cipres in the lead-in to the 2018 Winter Olympics.
"The girl and her parents said that instead of going to police or SafeSport, which opened in March 2017 to investigate sexual abuse in Olympic sports, Zimmerman and Fontana implored them to stay quiet because Cipres and his pairs partner Vanessa James were in the final stages of their preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, where they finished fifth.
"The girl and her parents allege Zimmerman and Fontana intimidated the girl for several weeks, telling her that she was at fault for receiving the pictures because she was a 'pretty girl and men have their needs,' that no one would believe her and that she would be shamed on social media, particularly in France, where Cipres is popular."
The girl also said that Dispenza told her she would never skate again if she said something.
Dara Bushman, a psychologist who worked with the girl, contacted authorities and the girl's parents after receiving an email on Dec. 30, 2017, regarding the allegation. That message was from the girl's tutor, who outlined the details.
"I did what I was bound to do ethically," Bushman told USA Today. "I contacted the parents. I contacted the authorities. I wanted to make sure the child was safe."
Police spoke with the girl, who did not discuss the details. No charges were filed, and the girl stopped training at AdventHealth Center Ice.
A family friend of the girl reported the incident to SafeSport on Aug. 10.
A spokesperson for Cipres issued remarks on his behalf to Agence France-Presse: "The federation is working with him on this. He has taken on a lawyer and he will not let himself be pushed around."
USA Today also contacted Cipres by phone, and the 28-year-old responded: "I cannot talk with you about anything about that. I mean, I have nothing to say about this allegation. I have nothing, nothing, nothing to say about anything about that so I’m sorry, I cannot talk to you."
Zimmermann and Fontana, who are married, issued a joint statement to USA Today:
“We are completely shocked by the recent allegations made in this article. We were not contacted by SafeSport and there are currently no claims against us. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of safety and professionalism. We deny the allegations and look forward to clearing up this matter which we take very seriously.”
Zimmermann, Fontana and Dispenza all still coach at AdventHealth Center Ice. Cipres continues to train there as well.