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‘Love Is Blind’ creator addresses lawsuit from contestant alleging sexual assault

Love Is Blind creator Chris Coelen is speaking out against the latest lawsuit against the production company behind the show, this time from a former contestant alleging assault, false imprisonment, and negligence.

Season 5 cast member Tran Dang, who was filmed but ultimately not shown in the episodes, has filed a lawsuit against Kinetic Content claiming that she was sexually assaulted on set by her former castmate and fiancé, Thomas Smith, and that the production company allegedly did nothing to stop it, according to the complaint obtained by PEOPLE.

Dang also claims she was falsely imprisoned and producers acted with negligence while filming the reality series which sees singles go on a series of dates in pods where they can only hear their potential love match before deciding if they want to propose. If they get engaged, they soon move in together and ultimately head to the altar where they must decide in front of family and friends if they want to legally marry.

Speaking out for the first time about this latest lawsuit, showrunner Coelen told PEOPLE that he supports people coming forward about sexual assault but that the production was “never told that [Dang] felt unsafe or experienced any of the allegations that she made.”

“If anybody ever came to us and said they felt unsafe in any way, we would immediately remove them from the experiment and talk to them, and try to get to the bottom of it,” he told the outlet. “Unfortunately, in this case, that kind of sentiment was never addressed to us in any way, nor was any alleged wrongdoing brought to our attention ever.”

Silhouette of a contestant on ‘Love Is Blind’ season 4.
Netflix

Regarding Dang’s allegations of false imprisonment, Coelen said that’s “preposterous,” explaining that contestants are able to leave the show if/whenever they choose (as is seen multiple times this season, including Aaliyah deciding to leave the pods).

PEOPLE also reported that since her initial filing, Dang has also sued production company Delirium TV, which Kinetic allegedly “delegated responsibility for shooting the relevant season of Love Is Blind.”

Production companies Kinetic Content and Delirium TV issued a joint statement to EW regarding Dang’s lawsuit. “We support and stand with victims of sexual assault, but Ms. Dang’s claims against the producers are meritless,” the statement reads. “We document the independent choices of adults who volunteer to participate in a social experiment. Their journey is not scripted, nor is it filmed around the clock. We have no knowledge or control over what occurs in private living spaces when not filming, and participants may choose to end their journey at any time. We take any and all concerns of our participants seriously and prioritize their well-being.”

The statement continues, “Obviously, we cannot address undisclosed concerns, and throughout the time that Ms. Dang was involved in the production of Love is Blind, she never informed the producers of any alleged wrongdoing of any kind. Nor did she choose to end her participation in the experiment. Instead, Ms. Dang continued in the experiment for weeks after the time her lawyers now claim an incident occurred. We deny and will vigorously defend the allegations against us.”

Dang’s attorney Benjamin W. Allen said in a statement, “We are confident that Ms. Dang’s position will be vindicated once we get [to court] and are committed to seeing it through all of the way. We have to hold the show producers accountable. We have an ethical duty to our client to do so, but also feel a moral obligation to the next generation of reality show participants.”

While filming the current season, Dang got engaged to Smith in the pods and flew to Mexico for the post-pod vacation. Dang alleges she was sexually assaulted by Smith on May 3, 2022, while filming in Mexico. “Smith, and without Ms. Dang’s consent, forcefully groped her, exposed himself in the nude, and repeatedly made sexual contact over her express objections,” the lawsuit reads. “Because of the 24-hour surveillance of cast members, most, if not all, of these traumatic acts were likely captured on film.”

Dang allegedly reported the incident and claims an assistant producer “gaslighted her, implying that she was at fault for what had happened with Thomas Smith by not communicating effectively or somehow not taking the ‘relationship’ seriously.” Dang also claims she was harassed by Smith during a May 14 phone call, resulting in Smith allegedly calling producers to complain that she “had reported his behavior.”

Ultimately Dang decided to quit the show but claims she was told she had to film a “final scene” where producers told her what to say on camera. “After this horrific experience, Ms. Dang consulted with an attorney,” the lawsuit states.

Coelen refuted Dang’s claims of informing production about the alleged assault. “She did not make any kind of claim of assault of any kind,” he said. “We would not continue filming with someone who was expressing that an incident of that sort had happened. We have round-the-clock psychologists, a highly trained production team, we have a whole battalion of people who’s job it is to make sure that we prioritize our participant’s well-being. But the participant has to be actively involved in that process.”

“We do not tell people what to say, what to do, we consistently tell people that this is their journey, this is their life to lead as they choose,” Coelen adds. “We’re there to follow it.”

‘Love is Blind’ pods.
Netflix

Dang claims in the lawsuit that the cast was kept in the pods for two weeks without use of their cell phones, were prohibited from leaving their hotel rooms without permission, kept under 24-hour surveillance, and were provided with alcohol but limited food. “This combination was designed to encourage them to engage in striking conversations and actions that would increase viewer ratings,” the suit reads.

Coelen called the claims “100 percent false and defamatory.”

“It’s not true in any way,” he told PEOPLE. “We don’t push alcohol. Everyone has consistent and regular access to food and water … In the pods, they’re on a 68,000-square-foot sound stage, where it’s dark, there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of equipment, and even for me, it’s very confusing to get around from place to place. Because of that, and because we want to protect the integrity of the experiment, we do not want them wandering around by themselves, and wandering over into [the other gender’s] living quarters, because sometimes people are tempted to do that — we want to avoid that.”

He continued, “Claiming that you are falsely imprisoned on Love Is Blind is preposterous and ridiculous. You come and go as you choose. You are not required to stay. If you stay, that is your decision. The participants are not under our control. They are living their lives. We come in, we film them for a period of time, we leave. They can leave — as many, many, many people have before — anytime they want.”

Coelen maintained that they will “vigorously defend ourselves” during the ongoing litigation. “I’m not in a position to speculate about what happens with adults on their own time behind closed doors,” he said. “I want to be really, really clear about that. I’m not saying her allegations of sexual assault are or are not true. I’m not in a position to say that. I’m truly supportive and empathetic of people who make these claims. But what I will say is her allegations against us are completely meritless. The reason is because while I am incredibly empathetic and understanding that sometimes it is difficult for people to speak up about these issues, if no one comes forward to inform us of a concern or a claim, there’s literally nothing we can do about it … We strongly encourage people to speak out but we can’t be accountable if someone doesn’t tell us that they have a concern. Those two things can mutually coexist.”

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