'Real World' alum Tonya Cooley claims she was raped, sues MTV for sexual assault, negligence


Image Credit: Michael Bezjian/WireImage.com

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.

Comments (159 total) Add your comment
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  • JB

    Wow… I always thought Kenny and Evan were creepsters.
    This is also why Big Brother limits the amount of alcohol they give the contestants. They know they could have a lawsuit on their hands.

    • lisa g.

      Ugh i hate Evan, Kenny n Johnny.

      • etm

        Me too. They’re 3 arrogant d!ckheads and Evan is sooo ugly. I feel bad for Tonya because she obviously has problems, but there is no way she deserved this.

      • lisa g.

        Evan is very strange looking!

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      • Amy’s Left Tit

        A rape accusation that supposedly took place when the claimaint was unconscious. REALLY? This chick is crazy…

      • lisa g.

        How is that crazy?

      • Your Mom

        Simple: she’s claiming something happened to her, with no knowledge of the said event, and no witnesses of said event. In other words, she’s making this s**t up out of whole cloth. I agree, arrest her for making false accusations.

      • lisa g.

        Well I’m going to go out on a limb and say the case is based on more than just the few paragraphs on EW.com or T M Z.

    • Sarah

      Lock them up. The inmates will have a field day with Kenny. He’s so pretty. They will have chubby Evan squealing like a pig.

      • Hank

        “Lock them up?” Are you nuts?! Two years after the fact and she’s making claims of an assault that took place that she doesn’t even remember or was awake for?!?! Lock HER up for defamation of character!

      • Bob R

        while I don’t really have an opinion on whether or not she’s lying, I don’t think defaming the character of a reality show participant (not star please) is even possible, since most of them are scumbags to begin with – or they wouldn’t be there

    • Sally

      I’d let Kenny stick whatever he wants in my yum yum. He’s so gorgeous. I’d just like to be awake when he was doing it.

      • Rosie Hasselback

        LMFAO, he is pretty.

      • Bruise Brother

        WOW!!! It was only a matter of time…I luv the show…But all that DRINKING & DRAMA….Something of this nature was bound to happen…If there is photage of this they can kiss their asses bye bye…and whoever filmed it is just as GUILTY!!!!

      • Acaseofgeo

        Her story makes VERY LITTLE SENSE. First, SHE was drinking too much and passed out (HER MISTAKE). Second, she says the boys took someone else’s toothbrush to rub on her pudendum yet THEY got new toothbrushes. Uhhhhh….Why?? Did MTV think her lady parts were so skanky that they gave the boys new toothbrushes? Makes no sense! What about the guy who’s toothbrush was sullied? I guess he had to brush wish remnants of her DNA on his brush. Makes no sense. And then SHE gets sent home for a violent attack? (HER FAULT). It might be clear she was attacked in some way, and she should’ve pressed legal charges long before now. Perhaps, however, the reason she’s going this route is because her story HAS SERIOUS HOLES.

      • Acaseofgeo

        BTW, I’m not condoning these boys’ sick (& possibly illegal) behavior, but you are supposed to go to court with clean hands and this girl, through her own choices and actions, has very dirty hands.

      • @Acaseofgeo

        So if you are a less than stellar, model citizen, you can never be wronged and use the legal system? Your statement about going to court with clean hands is assinine.

      • lisa g.

        Hi Acaseofgeo, in all fairness someone waiting to press charges or file a lawsuit doesn’t automatically means a person is lying. There are a variety of reasons that could cause that….being torn on burning bridges, not wanting to embarrass ur family with details that may emerge etc etc……

      • Acaseofgeo

        @ @Acaseofgeo, I understand your point. And your point SHOULD be true. But you tell Judge Judy that “going to court with clean hands is assinine”. She says it often while adjudicating her TV cases. But you look at the history of the judicial system and you’ll see that people who’ve made poor behavourial choices face a much more difficult time getting justice. There’s the thought “this person was asking for it”. I’m talking about reality, not perfectality.

    • ryanconklinsisHOT

      I remember when Tonya first appeared on realworld, you could tell she was a very troubled girl,later it was revealed she grew up in foster care. Tonya was casted 5 or 6 more times and each time she became more unstable mentally, her sadness and lonelyness was hard to hide and she seemed to have a substance problem towards the last years. I watched the show that this incident happened and both of those douche bags teased her and humilated her to tears each nite, One of the other cast member reemed them out for the powder and lotion assault but I cant remeber who. I believe it was Chad , the new host for mtv. MTV knew tonya was fragile and they kept her on the shows to be bullied for the amusement of America.

      • lisa g.

        I too recall the season this is alleged to have happened n i specifically remember those guys picking on her relentlessly! She was a sloppy mess but that’s still no excuse n i remember feeling bad for her.

      • SaraS

        Agree and with lisa G.
        No woman deserves that kind of treatment; they are pig-headed animals who can’t keep a regular job so the are trained to be masculine and dramatic for TV to make their $$ and “fame” – of which there isn’t much.
        Losers! Lock ‘em up!

      • Laura

        Seems like SHE is a bit of a loser herself, doesn’t it? What’s HER job, hmmmmm? Oh, I see. Making money off of these lunicrous accusations. Lets make this simple: She was drunk, They were drunk. Either they’re ALL equally responsible for their actions or NONE of them are.

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    • daniel

      in my opinion anyone who was not on the show,’real world’,’road rules’ should have never been allowed to participate on the show real world road rules challenge.

      • lisa g.

        I agree Daniel. The challengees went downhill to me when they started casting these unknown ppl.

    • wakeforce

      Maybe you shouldn’t get so intoxicated you don’t know what ‘s going on. How do you know it wasn’t consensual?

      • lisa g.

        True but sht happens…especially on b-days, new yrs etc…and when it does one shouldn’t have to worry about being raped!

      • Lyndsey

        Legally, if you’re so drunk that you pass or black out then you’re not capable of consenting to sex. It doesn’t matter if she stripped naked & danced around the room, it doesn’t give anyone the right to rape her. Reactions like this are exactly why so many women don’t come forward when it happens! What a great society we live in! :-/

  • lisa g.

    I believe it!

  • rerun

    Tonya be crazy.

    • Lindsay

      All they wanted to do was clean it for her. It was probably smelling up the house.

  • Heidi

    That sounds too crazy to NOT be true. How could she make something like that up? Sad.

    • Becky

      Easy – she’s crazy
      There are so many problems in this story, who knows what really happened…the guys are douches, Tonya is beyond crazy, MTV is shady…

  • ozzy

    That poor girl will do or say anything to stay in the public eye! She NEEDS Celebrity Rehab!!

    • lisa g.

      You obviously never watched that show!

      • TJ. Church

        YOU obviously never watched it! She is all about herself, drinking, & money!!!

      • lisa g.

        Actually, I have n remember her from when she was on Real World n the challenges. The behavior on those challenges is insane n like someone else It’s surprising something like this hasnt happened sooner. Yes, Tonya is a mess but i do believe this is true n there are witnesses considering they all stayed in the same house. The guys are arrogant pos!

      • Lucy

        This latest season the guys got horny and riled up with Mike from Real World Las Vegas. They kept humping the poor guy.

    • Liz Lemon

      Wow. How do you know she’s not telling the truth??
      Everything she said sounds true to me. And considering she’s going up against a major network, it also makes sense why it took 2 years to file the lawsuit.

    • DD

      Have you ever watched the Challeges? I’m sure you have…or you’re just speculating. Anyways, I do watch these shows, and they are extremely disturbing to watch. I don’t think Tonya’s story is far fetched at all. Evan and Kenny are complete a**holes. They go around bullying others, especially girls that they feel are weak and can make cry. Tonya is an unstable person, it’s been proven, however, she’s only unstable when someone pushes her to her breaking point. They (men and woman contestants) constantly make fun of her, do mean things to her…and she goes and crys off in the corner somewhere and no one even cares. They have made fun of her, thrown her clothes in the pool, steal her things, make fun of the way she lived as a child, and lets remind everyone that she grew up in Foster Care, these people are sick to even say those kind of things to her, they make fun of her face, her body, her boobs, they do it all. These castmembers are relentless when it comes to bullsh*t like this. Just this season on Challege:Rivals, Wes, the bully that he is, poured a whole bottle of soda over a castmember woman, Cara Maria, called her names, and made her cry, and NO ONE except ONE person stuck up for her. They did these things to her because the girl, was weak hearted and they knew they could hurt her feelings. What Tonya is claiming could have very well happened, they do f*cked up things on the show, and they tease people relentlessly, which they have done to Tonya plenty of times. I always ask myself why does someone like Tonya come onto the show? Then I think, maybe it’s because of the money she wants to win, who knows really. It doesn’t matter though, because none of these men or people should be doing these types of things, and MTV won’t acknowledge these things, but I know it’s true, they encourage most of the stuff because they like the drama and made for TV crap they can show. MTV likes the hookups, the bullying, the crying, and when someone gets hurt…they thrive off that.

      • Lisa Young

        Well said muchacha. You should be a writer or a journalist, I like the passion of your voice

  • DD

    She doesn’t really know what happened she is just speculating.. Maybe she’s mad because they sent her home.

    • Whoopi has a Trout Mouth

      Maybe it was not rape but rape rape.

      • Connor

        A million high fives for that one.

      • Tina

        Awesome Whoopi.

  • Ty

    I’ve been watching these challenges from the beginning and I believe her. The producers need to take responsibility for what’s happened they set these things up to maximize the drama and not all those guys are scummy but a fair amount of them are. Eww…

    • etm

      I love the Challenges. However, the producers need to switch up the cast a little. It’s always the same group.

      • lisa g.

        I’ve lost a little interest in them especially when they started casting ppl who’d never done RW or Road Rules. I think these ppl are just getting older n moving on…not to mention the older ppl tend to be ostracized n ridiculed on the challenges like Robin n Tonya.

  • Al

    Tonya has to accept personal responsibility for her actions, because she has displayed a lot of risky behavior over the years on these challenges. That being said, Kenny and Evan must at least be investigated because any assault phyiscal or sexual needs to be dealt with seriously. And as bad as I feel for any victim of any assault, I have watched these seasons and Tonya definitely makes poor choices and acts totally out of control on many occasions!

    • vikesfansteve

      you are stupid

    • MissVampireDiaries

      We live in rape culture. Let the victim blaming continue!

      • Dracula

        Funny coming from a vampire fan. Vampire stories are bland rape fantasies for horny girls

      • @Dracula

        Okay, vanilla. Rape fantasies and the actual thing are very different, a**.

    • tm

      Making poor choices doesn’t give someone else the right to sexually assault. You may not like her character or the choices she makes but she didn’t ask for this to happen to her. It seems your making it her fault this happened.

      • T

        Thank you tm. People do always blame the victim. No one disserves this…

    • Gip

      @Al, you are all over the place. What are you afraid of pissing someone off?

    • @Dracula

      Haha ftw, so true @Dracula

  • AJ

    “The suit alleges that Santucci and Starkman slapped Cooley to wake her up, but got no response. She claims that the two men attempted to make her conscious with cold water and “aggressive physical contact,” but that she was passed out cold.”

    how do you know these things if your “passed out cold”? I know with the toothbrush remarks she said she found abrasions granted how did she tie that to the toothbrush?

    sounds all strange to me, like its so descriptive it sounds like a logical claim since its not “they just did i just know it” but at the same time its like if you were “passed out cold” how do you know these things?

    with all the excessive drinking these shows have, I am surprised this hasn’t happened more often.

    • lisa g.


    • tm

      She has evidence. She has to going into a law suit this big.

      • Heather

        Or she’s hoping to make a splash & force MTV into a settlement to shut her up.

      • Judge Judy got Booty

        Even if it’s not on tape, I still believe it happened.

  • Justin

    She’s trash, but I’d believe it.

    • lisa g.

      SPOT on.

    • Danny

      Agreed. Shes trash. And believe it happened. Hope she has the evidence to prove it. Those guys are something else. Don’t know whose worse. Jersey shore or them

  • Arksys

    This just sounds like someone just wants money. If it was true why not realese all info and of course they will not return phone calls if they are not stupid it wiill all blow over and they will settle out of court for very little money because she knows she will not win with this crappy story of hers

    • Tonic

      Are you kidding? I’m in no way a fan of hers OR the guys, but all footage on the show points to something like this happening to her.

      • lisa g.

        Thank you!

      • Hoosier

        What footage has been released? Were you there? Cause this didn’t air.

  • Will

    The sad thing is that those contracts MTV makes people sign make them immune to lawsuits for any reason. You can get killed, you can get AIDS, you could get run over by a truck and MTV is protected.

    • Jared

      Nah, those contracts may include those clauses but they won’t hold up if they get sued for something like this.

  • Jade

    How exactly does she know these things if she was ‘passed out cold’? She needs to maybe get her facts straight.

    • tm

      She said it was bought on camera. Obviously she wouldn’t be suing if she didn’t have evidence.

  • H.S.

    She knows because other witnesses told her after the fact. There’s video, she said in another interview that they have copies of the footage. It sounds pretty legit, and downright disgusting.

    • Heidi

      I’m sure someone who saw it came forward out of guilt for keeping it a secret these past years. If I saw something like that and was pressured to keep quiet because – maybe I was drunk too, maybe everyone else is telling me I hallucinated it, or that what I saw wasn’t what I thought – or all of the above – it would haunt me. I’m sure someone or several someones have come forward and told her.

    • caryn

      or maybe it was a cameraman/editor etc that told her. maybe he/she couldn’t live with the guilt anymore.

      • ry

        or myabe it just took her this long to get it all together, before it came out to the public

  • Daniel J. Guida

    Tanya is insane.

    • Shut your piehole!

      I guess this is what happens when MTV doesn’t play music videos.

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