'The truth will set you free': Jacksonville volleyball coach encourages more women to come forward

Sarah Powers-Barnhard alleges that she was sexually abused in the 80s by her coach in Illinois. She's sharing her story to help others feel comfortable in coming forward with similar stories.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The wave of high-profile men losing their jobs due to sexual misconduct allegations is drawing attention to a case First Coast News  first reported on in May. Sarah Powers-Barnhard, a Jacksonville volleyball coach, alleges in a lawsuit that she was sexually abused in the '80s by her coach in Illinois who today is one of the top junior volleyball coaches in the nation.

 

Powers-Barnhard, 52, is suing the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and wants coach Rick Butler, 63, banned. This week, she was featured in a front-page article in the Chicago Sun-Times, which examines the allegations by five women against him.

 

"My mentality was I can't leave... I'll lose everything," Powers-Barnhard said.

 

She knows what it's like to come forward with serious accusations against a man in a powerful position.

 

"I know that feeling," she said. "It's so scary for any abuse victim to come forward alone is terrifying. With three of us as young girls it was terrifying, but at least we have each other and now we have a fourth and we know the fifth."

 

She says she was 16 when she says she lost her virginity to her coach, Rick Butler. He was a coach she trusted and coach she says promised to advance her volleyball career

         

"What he calls discipline is really fear," she said. "You have a chance to get a scholarship to school, I needed that."

         

It took almost a decade for her to break her silence, but in 1995, she and two other women testified before a USA Volleyball Association Committee about the alleged sexual abuse they say they endured.

 

In transcripts obtained by First Coast News, Butler told the committee that the relationships with all three women began after they turned 18 and were no longer on his team.  

 

After initially being banned for life, Butler was allowed to reapply for a conditional membership. He was reinstated as long as he promised, in writing, that he wouldn't coach junior girls in any of the organization's events. The AAU, which is a separate entity, has never suspended or disciplined him and Butler says he has remained a member in good standing for the past 36 years.

         

"There's a complete frustration that many people don't see him for who we see him what he really did to us," she said. "That's frustrating."

         

Powers-Barnhard has watched the domino effect of the recent wave of women coming forward against powerful men and says she's glad the environment is finally changing. But in her case, she says it is taking too long to get justice.

 

"For it to come out in so many arenas Hollywood different sports: swimming, skating, gymnastics, volleyball, all of us," Powers-Barnhard said. "Talking about it coming out we can't all be lying for it to come out in so many arenas Hollywood, different sports swimming, skating, gymnastics, volleyball -- all of us. Talking about it coming out we can't all be lying it can't be for anything more than it's the truth. We need to handle it, we need to help little girls that are growing up feel safe being successful in whatever avenue they take. That's how I feel. I feel good that it's coming out, and I think I feel there's a chance for us to change the environment in every arena."

         

She encourages women who have been abused to come forward.

 

"Come forward... The truth will set you free," Powers-Barnhard said. "I have never felt more confident and more me since I told my story, and so I wish I could give that feeling to the women other victims that don't feel they can come forward for whatever reason.  It's so freeing, and it's so right.  You did nothing wrong."

 

The complaint Powers-Barnhard filed against the AAU was dismissed twice without prejudice. She was allowed to amend and refile it. A hearing is scheduled for January.

 

The AAU says due to pending litigation, they are unable to respond.

 

Rick Butler's attorney, Tracy Stanker, sent us this statement from Butler:

 

"In 1995, USA Volleyball suspended me from its organization based on allegations from the 1980’s, without allowing me to present essential witnesses in my own defense at a hearing and without allowing me to fully cross examine my accusers. By doing so, USA Volleyball violated my most fundamental due process rights and made baseless findings against me. In December of 2000, USA Volleyball remedied the injustice and permitted me to rejoin as a member. I remained a member of USA Volleyball in good standing for 17 years. Likewise, I have never been suspended or disciplined by AAU and have remained a member in good standing for the past 36 years. Since 1995 I have coached over 20,000 junior age female athletes in my club and at hundreds of camps and clinics without a single allegation for any type of inappropriate conduct. In 2016, Sarah Powers-Barnhard filed a false and maliciously motivated lawsuit against AAU for the sole purpose of defaming me and AAU. That lawsuit, which included demonstratively false allegations against me and AAU, was properly dismissed by the Court. Ms. Powers-Barnhard then changed her story, invented new allegations about me and AAU to file a second complaint against AAU. That complaint was also dismissed by the court. Shockingly, Ms. PowersBarnhard attempted to renew her lawsuit by filing a third complaint. I am confident that just as the first and second lawsuits were dismissed, Mr. Powers-Barnhard’s third baseless lawsuit will also be dismissed by the Court and Ms. Powers-Barnhard will be held accountable for her false statements. Since my reinstatement to USA Volleyball in 2000 there have been no allegations made against me for any acts of wrongdoing. Despite that, for the past several years there has been a false social media smear campaign orchestrated against me. As a result, in 2016, USA Volleyball filed a complaint against me seeking to reconsider its 2000 decision to reinstate me to the organization. Just as the 1995 complaint did, this renewed complaint made accusations against me from the early 1980’s. Since filing the complaint in December of 2016, USA Volleyball has materially changed its allegations against me through four different amended complaints. However, USA Volleyball has yet to give me the opportunity to defend myself against the false allegations at a hearing, despite numerous requests over the past year to do so. Furthermore, USA Volleyball has refused my request to provide support for its allegations and has indicated that it will not abide by the legal rules of evidence in presenting its “case’ against me at any future hearing. USA Volleyball has also denied my requests for basic due process rights, including the ability as well as adequate time to present witnesses. USA Volleyball has ignored overwhelming evidence disputing the allegations against me, including the results of polygraph tests that were voluntarily taken and sworn affidavits of former players, establishing the allegations are false. I adamantly deny the allegations made by Beth Rogness-Rose and Eileen Asmussen. Those allegations have been addressed in one of the five polygraph tests that I have taken and passed. An expert polygraph examiner has determined that my answers, denying the accusations, are absolutely truthful. Kay Rogness was a source of both the 1995 and 2016 complaint against me. Although Kay Rogness claims that she had knowledge of me engaging in misconduct in the early 1980s, her actions for an entire decade during the same time period completely contradict statements that she would later make. Ms. Rogness was my business partner until 1990 when I bought her share of the business. Ms. Rogness has admitted in written documents and in sworn testimony that she was angry at me regarding my efforts to buy her out of the business. Ms. Rogness has also admitted in documents and sworn testimony that she was in a physical relationship with me for a 10 year period of time from 1979-1989. This is during the same period of time that she would later say she was a witness to my inappropriate behavior. It was only after I ended my personal and business relationship and Ms. Rogness had received her last payment for her share of the business, that she would make these false accusations against me. Ms. Rogness also made false accusations to DCFS. As a result, DCFS conducted a minimal investigation and at the conclusion of the investigation placed no restrictions on my ability to coach minor players. DCFS never referred the case for criminal investigation or prosecution. Sports Performance girl’s teams have not participated in USA Volleyball events since 2007 and I have absolutely no desire to be a member of USA Volleyball given the egregious conduct displayed by the organization. However, I will continue to fight USA Volleyball’s attempts to smear my reputation with false accusations. I have never sexually abused any individual and any allegation that I did over 30 years ago is absolutely false. I have never been accused by law enforcement of illegally abusing any player or committing any crime, and there is no factual basis for “change.org” or any other organization to make such a defamatory allegation. I have received a tremendous amount of support from my current players, former players and their families. I am extremely grateful for the tremendous amount of support I have received and I will continue to work to achieve the highest level of success for the hundreds of players that I coach on a yearly basis."

 

A petition with over 3,000 signatures is on Change.Org to ban Rick Butler from the AAU.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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