U.S. NEWS
03/01/2018 09:27 am ET

Top Volleyball Coach Raped Girls Hundreds Of Times, Lawsuit Alleges

Rick Butler, a youth coach for decades, has been banned by several sports organizations.

An influential youth volleyball coach is accused in a new federal class-action lawsuit of raping at least six girls in the 1980s on hundreds of occasions.

The Chicago-area coach, Rick Butler, used his position to manipulate young players and sexually abuse them, according to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago and first reported Wednesday by the Chicago Sun-Times. One victim claimed she was raped repeatedly over several years and was impregnated by Butler, who she said forced her to undergo an abortion. 

The 72-page lawsuit seeks more than $5 million in damages from Butler; his wife, Cheryl; and their training facility, the Sports Performance Volleyball Club in Aurora, Illinois. It was filed by Laura Mullen, the mother of a former player who trained under Butler.

The suit accuses Butler and his wife of concealing a history of alleged sexual abuse, as well as attempting to intimidate and discredit Butler’s accusers, several of whom are named in the document. The suit argues that had Mullen and other parents been aware of Butler’s history as an alleged “child sexual predator,” they never would’ve sent their daughters to train with the coach.

Christine Tuzi says in the lawsuit she was 16 when Butler raped her for the first time. He forced her into “hundreds of unprotected sexual encounters” over the next few years, the suit says, until she became pregnant with his child at the age of 19.

Tuzi told the New York Daily News in 2016 that Butler told her to “get rid of it” after learning she was pregnant. According to the suit, Butler took Tuzi to an abortion clinic, and immediately after the procedure, forced her to masturbate him in a hotel room.

Another young woman, Sarah Powers-Barnhard, says in the lawsuit that Butler began raping her when she was 16. She says the coach forced her to watch pornographic films so she could “learn” from them, and would secretly fondle her in public ― sometimes within “just feet” of her teammates.

Many of Butler’s victims were “rising stars” in youth volleyball who saw the coach as an influential someone who could help advance their sporting careers, the lawsuit says.

“Butler used his position of power as an influential and nationally known volleyball coach to gain leverage over the girls and their parents,” the suit says. ”[He] used abusive emotional, psychological, and physical tactics and intimidation to prevent the girls from stopping the sexual abuse or revealing the abuse to others.”

The lawsuit accuses Cheryl Butler of threatening and intimidating several of her husband’s accusers so they would not go public with their stories.

The Sun-Times ― quoting Tuzi, Powers-Barnhard and other accusers ― in November detailed sexual abuse allegations against Butler in an expansive feature about the coach, who was described as “one of the most dominant youth volleyball coaches in the country.”

Many of the allegations against the coach had been made public in 1995, the newspaper reported, yet Butler recovered from the scandal and resumed coaching young girls after USA Volleyball partially rescinded what was supposed to be a lifetime ban against him.

Butler has since trained “more than 20,000 teenage girls,” the Sun-Times reported. His training facility, Sports Performance, “boasts four Olympic medalists and nearly 100 national championships.”

Following the Sun-Times article in November and subsequent reporting, Butler was banned by several sports associations, including USA Volleyball and the Amateur Athletic Union.

Butler has never been charged with a crime. Several accusers said the relevant statutes of limitations had expired by the time they came forward with their allegations. 

Through his lawyer, Butler said last year that he’d “never sexually abused any individual.” He has admitted in the past to having sex with Powers-Barnhard and two other accusers, but insisted the encounters were consensual and occurred after the women had turned 18. 

Jay Edelson, the class-action attorney representing Mullen, told BuzzFeed that his office had received “many calls and emails from people offering to provide further evidence in support of our lawsuit.”

“We look forward to continuing our investigation and prosecuting this action,” Edelson said.

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