Ilima-Lei MacFarlane is the inaugural and current Bellator MMA Women’s Flyweight Champion, with an 11-0 professional MMA record and four consecutive title defenses, but news has just been broken that she is filing a lawsuit with the Honolulu Circuit Court against her former school and Basketball coach, alleging sexual abuse that began back in 2003.
Hawaii News Now was the first outlet to break the story that MacFarlane is one of three ex-students of Punahou School who have claimed that the school’s former Basketball coach, Dwayne Yuen, had sexually groomed them from a young age. One of the other ex-students has been named as MacFarlane’s older sister, Mahina MacFarlane Souza, while the other ex-student has gone unnamed as yet. The grooming allegedly began when MacFarlane was 12 and her sister Mahina was 14.
Ilima-Lei MacFarlane spoke to Hawaii News Now to explain that the sexual abuse was the main reason that she eventually switched to pursuing wrestling. She’s been quoted as saying; “I ended up losing my love for basketball, which was crazy. That’s what I wanted to do as a career. I wanted to play professional basketball in the WNBA.”
The sisters also claim that Yuen later made them touch his genitals, offered money in exchange for sexual favors and send explicit photos of himself to them. The third unnamed student also claimed that she was sent threatening texts and phone messages by Yuen and was able to provide transcripts of some of these as evidence.
Punahou School sent an email to members of the school community claiming they were “heartbroken” by the student’s accounts and they have reported the recent allegations to the police, alongside opening an internal investigation. But the lawsuit claims that this is grossly misleading because the sisters reported the abuse to the school over 15 years ago asking for “help and protection” yet they received neither.
“There was no follow at all, whatsoever, which was especially heartbreaking because I love Punahou,” said Macfarlane. “I truly believe and know that they all knew what was going on and it was just like a culture there.”
Ilima-Lei MacFarlane posted the below on her official Instagram page, commenting on the lawsuit and showing a picture of both herself and her sister around the same time of the alleged sexual abuse:
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Even though I’ve been a strong voice for other wahine toa—creating my scholarship for native girls, teaching self-defense to them, leading healing retreats for women—I never really shared my own story. To be honest, I was in denial and didn’t want to admit that it affected me as much as it did. I have to be strong. I’m a professional fighter. I can’t show any vulnerability. I can’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how much he infiltrated my thoughts, relationships and life even 15 years later. But here we are. The time is now. And for all the trolls saying, “wHy DiD u wAiT s0 l0nG?!” Idiots. We didn’t “wait”. My sister reported him to the school right when it happened and they swept it under the rug. Punahou knew I was a victim and witness to my own sister’s abuse and didn’t even bother to check on me. As a result we were retaliated against by him and the basketball program and had to see him everyday, still allowed on campus around minors. My sister and I tried our best to move on with our lives until it resurfaced in 2018 when more victims came forward. Punahou claimed they were doing an internal investigation but again, didn’t contact me and refused to share the results of the “investigation” with my sister. Disgustingly, we found out that he’s STILL coaching and teaching minor girls. So here we are now, 15 years later seeking justice together. He can’t get away with this anymore. Dwayne Yuen, YOUR TIME IS UP. P.S. I chose this picture not only for the solidarity that my family and I have together through this process, but to show you how old me and Mahina were when the sexual grooming and abuse started. I was in 6th grade and she (far right) was a freshman.
Sadly, this is not the only case of combat sports stars suffering at the hands of a trusted coach and mentor. Earlier this month, BJJ world champion Claudia Do Val announced that she will be taking her former coach Ricardo De La Riva to court over sexual abuse allegations as well.
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