MMA star Macfarlane among women suing Punahou, former basketball coach for sex abuse

MMA star Macfarlane among women suing Punahou, former basketball coach for sex abuse
File photo from the Punahou School campus in 2018.

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Bellator MMA flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and two other former Punahou School student-athletes are accusing one of the institution’s prior basketball coaches of sexually abusing them when they were students.

“He definitely groomed us,” said Macfarlane.

A lawsuit filed in Honolulu Circuit Court today lists Punahou School and Dwayne Yuen, the former coach, among the defendants.

“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,” Macfarlane said.

Macfarlane, who graduated from Punahou in 2009 and had attended the school since she was in kindergarten, says Yuen started grooming her and her sister, Mahina Macfarlane Souza, beginning in 2003, when she was 12 and her sister was 14.

She said that’s the reason she decided to pursue wrestling instead.

She said the alleged sexual abuse still scars her.

“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," she said.

The sisters allege that Yuen later forced them to touch his genitals, offered cash for sex acts and sent explicit photos of himself. He is believed to have been involved with the Punahou girls basketball program between 2003 and 2006.

The third former student, who is not named in the lawsuit, also alleges that after she was sexually abused by the former coach, Yuen sent threatening texts and phone messages to her. Transcripts of some of those messages are attached to the lawsuit.

When contacted by Hawaii News Now on Wednesday, Yuen declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, who did not return our request for comment. He is not believed to have ever been arrested or charged in connection with the alleged assaults.

In an email to members of the school community earlier this week, Punahou officials acknowledged the sexual assault claims, saying they were ‘heartbroken’ by the accounts.

“In no uncertain terms, Punahou stands with survivors of sexual abuse everywhere, and we respect the courage it takes to report these incidents,” the statement read.

The school says they reported the recent allegations to Honolulu police and have opened an internal investigation into the incident.

But the lawsuit called the email ‘false’ and ‘grossly misleading,’ claiming that the Macfarlane sisters reported Yuen to school administrators more than 15 years ago, pleading for the school’s “help and protection.”

“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.”

Punahou School released a statement to Hawaii News Now on Wednesday saying they are “deeply troubled” by the reports.

“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,” said the school’s Director of Communications Robert Gelber.

This story will be updated.

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