What This MTV Sexual Assault Case Could Mean For Bachelor In Paradise

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
The ongoing investigation of workplace misconduct on the set of Bachelor in Paradise is unprecedented. Warner Bros. halted production of the show and flew the contestants home after a producer filed a third party complaint. Though details of the incident remain unconfirmed, it seems clear that a sexual encounter of questionable consent likely occurred between contestants Corinne Olympios and Demario Jackson. This may never have happened on the Bachelor franchise, but it has happened on The Real Word.
In 2011, Tonya Cooley, a cast member on the The Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Ruins filed a lawsuit against MTV, Bunim-Murray productions, and her cast mates Kenneth Santucci and Evan Starkman. The complaint alleged that Santucci and Starkman sexually assaulted Cooley while production, including cameras and producers, observed. Jezebel penned a thorough explainer on what happened back in 2012: Viacom rejected the complaint, and settled out of court. The network said in a statement that Cooley "failed to avoid" the situation.
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The incident in question involved another cast mate's toothbrush being inserted into Cooley's vagina while she was unconscious. Allegedly, producers saw what happened and did not intervene. Producers didn't bother to tell the passed-out contestant what had happened, but they did replace the toothbrush, as TMZ reported at the time.
On the show, Cooley was presented as regularly intoxicated and the butt of other contestant's jokes. According to Viacom, she "was frequently intoxicated, rowdy, combative, flirtatious and on multiple occasions intentionally exposed her bare breasts and genitalia to other contestants." (A clip, which you can watch here, shows two contestants throwing lotion and baby powder at stumbling Cooley. Another contestants says in the same clip that members of the cast "take advantage" of Cooley.)
This wasn't the first of such cases on The Real World. In 2004, a 22-year-old — not a contestant — alleged that she was roofied and raped by a guest of one of the cast members, as reported by E! News. A medical examination revealed abrasions on her vagina and anus. The police obtained footage of the encounter and searched the house where it occurred, seizing various items. But no arrests were made in the case.
Though the Bachelor in Paradise situation doesn't exactly mirror Cooley's case, the details resonate. Contestants on Bachelor in Paradise are also plied with alcohol, and early reports of the June 4 scandal suggest the two contestants involved were both highly intoxicated. One report cast Olympios as the "aggressor" — this is the same language that Viacom used to describe Cooley in 2012.
The Village Voice obtained the legal contract for The Real World in 2011. Subsequent reports say the contract stipulates MTV is not responsible for "non-consensual physical contact," among other reprehensible claims. (One such claim also states that MTV is also not responsible for death, loss of limbs, or mental illness.) So, if you are sexually assaulted on the show, production is not liable.
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As of Wednesday afternoon, Olympios has made an official statement on the Bachelor in Paradise incident. "As a woman, this is my worst nightmare and it has now become my reality," Olympios said. "I have retained a group of professionals to ensure that what happened on June 4 comes to light and I can continue my life, including hiring an attorney to obtain justice."
While a producer has filed a third party complaint, it's not yet clear if Olympios plans to file one herself. Based on history, it would seem that may not be the best course of action. If The Real World compels contestants to sign away their right to sexual consent, what might Bachelor in Paradise have done? If Tonya Cooley's case is the standard, then Corinne Olympios may face an upward battle suing the production.
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