Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is one of three former students of the Punahou School suing the institution and a former basketball coach, Dwayne Yuen, over the latter’s alleged sexual abuses of the underage students, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.
The news was first reported by KITV4, who obtained a copy of the legal complaint.
Macfarlane, her older sister Mahina Macfarlane Souza, and a third, unidentified girl accuse the prestigious Hawaiin private school of “gross negligence,” alleging that Yuen “targeted and sexually groomed” the then-underage students.
At the time of the alleged incidents, Macfarlane was twelve years old and in the sixth-grade, and her sister was fourteen.
According to the complaint, the Macfarlane sisters were “subjected to demands made by Coach Yuen” to touch “his genitals, offers of cash in exchange for sexual acts, sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances by a predatory adult on two minors, and the display and sending of sexually explicit photographs.”
The complaint alleges that Macfarlane sisters “pled for the school’s help and protection,” reporting the alleged misconduct around 2004 and 2005, but claims that “Punahou did not provide or offer the Macfarlane sisters any help, did nothing to protect the girls from Coach Yuen, did not keep Coach Yuen away from them and allowed Coach Yuen to continue assisting, interacting and participating with Punahou’s basketball program.”
Allegedly, after the Macfarlane sisters’ attempt to report Yuen to the school’s administrators, Yuen responded with “retaliation,” including “calling the girls “liars” and “sluts”, mocking them, holding them up to “ridicule”, and benching them during basketball games.”
In an Instagram post on Thursday, Macfarlane spoke at length about the lawsuit, her experience, and her complex emotions.
“Punahou knew I was a victim and witness to my own sister’s abuse and didn’t even bother to check on me,” she said.
View this post on Instagram
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 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.
A post shared by Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (@ilimanator) on
Speaking to Hawaii News Now, Macfarlane said the alleged incidents pushed her away from basketball, her first sporting love, and into wrestling to avoid Yuen.
“I had an inappropriate relationship with an adult who was in an authoritative position and a position of power, as a 12-year old, and that has 100-percent affected what I think is a healthy relationship,” Macfarlane added.
“There was no follow at all, whatsoever, which was especially heartbreaking because I love Punahou… I truly believe and know that they all knew what was going on and it was just like a culture there,” said Macfarlane of the school.
When contacted by Hawaii News Now, “Yuen declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, who did not return [their] request for comment.”
Yuen is not believed to have been charged with a crime or arrested to date in connection with these allegations.
The day after the lawsuit’s filing, the Punahou School issued a formal statement.
“We are deeply troubled by reports of sexual abuse raised by three former students. The reports allege abuse from 2004-2005 by Dwayne Yuen, a former girls basketball coach at our school. We are currently investigating these reports and are committed to working with the survivors to find resolution and healing.
In no uncertain terms, Punahou stands with survivors of sexual abuse everywhere, and we respect the courage it takes to report these incidents.
Providing for the physical, mental, and emotional safety of our students is our highest priority at Punahou. We hold ourselves to the highest ideals and are committed to reckoning with the past and bringing issues out of the shadows so that we can resolve them and provide counseling and support to survivors,” said the school.
Macfarlane, 30, is undefeated in MMA at a stellar 11-0.
The Bellator MMA flyweight champion has defended her title four times since capturing the vacant belt in 2017, and has been credited with bringing the promotion to her native Hawaii, where she has twice retained her championship.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.