'Real World' alum Tonya Cooley sues MTV for sexual assault, negligence
UPDATE: A spokesperson for Bunim-Murray Productions tells EW, “After a thorough investigation, we have found Tonya Cooley’s claims to be completely baseless.”
ORIGINALLY: According to court papers obtained by EW, Real World Chicago castmember Tonya Cooley has filed suit against MTV, Bunim-Murray Productions, and reality stars Kenneth Santucci and Evan Starkman, claiming that she was sexually assaulted by Santucci and Starkman while filming The Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Ruins, and that the producers of the program did nothing to stop it.
Cooley, a native of Washington state, claims that eight days into filming Ruins, which took place in Phuket, Thailand in May, 2009, she and other cast members became “very intoxicated” around the pool by drinking red wine and hard liquor — and also because MTV provided the cast with “limited amounts of food.” That night, a male cast member allegedly removed Cooley’s bikini top and threw it into a tree. Cooley says she then attempted to retire to her bunk, but was stopped by Santucci and Starkman, who wouldn’t let her get into her bed.
She claims that Santucci continually squirted lotion on her head, while another male squeezed baby powder in her face and that Starkman wouldn’t let go of her. Soon after this struggle, Cooley says she passed out on the floor, and alleges that Santucci and Starkman then took another male participant’s toothbrush and used it to touch her genitals. She also states that she believes MTV and Bunim/Murray were aware that the alleged assault happened but didn’t inform her or take any action against Kenneth and Evan. The suit does not explain how Cooley eventually learned about the alleged assault, nor whether she eventually pressed criminal charges.
Cooley was sent home from the competition the very next day after slapping a female contestant, and she claims that “slapping the cast member was deemed a violation of the rules prohibiting offensive contact between cast members.” Cooley argues that MTV and Bunim-Murray Productions “further mistreated [her] by subjecting her to stricter disciplinary rules than male participants” and that the producers consistently encouraged a misogynistic culture on the reality series.
She is seeking unspecified damages. When contacted, MTV and Bunim-Murray Productions both had “no comment.” EW’s calls to Santucci and Starkman have not been returned at this time.