Rick Butler accusers tell lawmakers he threatened victims into staying quiet

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Rick Butler during a volleyball camp in 2014. | Stacie Scott/Lincoln Journal Star

Three women who in the 1990s accused a popular west suburban volleyball coach of sexual abuse have long said he was never prosecuted because they didn’t make their accusations until crucial legal deadlines had passed.

But Tuesday, one of them told state lawmakers Rick Butler could have faced criminal charges if another accuser, who remains anonymous to this day, had come forward at the same time. Instead, she was allegedly threatened into silence.

“She’s still ‘Jane Doe,’ as you can imagine,” Sarah Powers-Barnhard said during a hearing in Springfield. “And that came from being threatened.”

Powers-Barnhard and another alleged Butler victim, Julie Romias, appeared at the state capitol to speak to a Senate task force looking into sexual discrimination and harassment. The women were joined by attorney Jay Edelson and Kay Rogness, a former Butler business partner.

BACKGROUND: The Chicago Sun-Times series on coach Rick Butler Rick Butler hit with class-action lawsuit over sexual abuse claims Butler attorneys calls lawsuit ‘hearsay within hearsay,’ wants it tossed

Together, they asked lawmakers to consider several changes to state law. Among other things, they want to make it more difficult for abusers and others to silence victims with threats of defamation lawsuits — or worse.

“When I first came forward — the very first time — he got my number and told me that he had a gun and he was not afraid to use it,” Romias said. “So I can’t even imagine what he told ‘Jane Doe’.”

Butler has been dogged by sexual abuse allegations for more than two decades and denied them all along the way. But just this year, he has been banned from multiple sports organizations. And in February, a woman whose daughters played for Butler also filed a lawsuit filled with damaging claims that made national headlines.

Late Monday, an attorney for Butler asked a judge to toss the lawsuit, calling it “hearsay within hearsay.”

That lawsuit alleges Butler raped the woman known as “Jane Doe” in his shower when she was a high school sophomore in the 1980s. It also alleges Butler’s wife, Cheryl, threatened her in 1995. It says she was “terrified for her safety and therefore did not come forward at that time.” An attorney for Rick Butler had no comment Tuesday on the threat allegations.

Powers-Barnhard said the criminal statute of limitations had not yet lapsed for “Jane Doe” when Powers-Barnhard and Romias came forward in the mid-1990s. A third woman, Christine Tuzi, also came forward at that time but did not appear at Tuesday’s hearing.

Edelson represents the woman who filed the new lawsuit, Laura Mullen, a mother of a former player. He asked the task force to also consider mandatory reporting requirements for employees of youth athletic organizations who are aware of sexual abuse allegations.

He said victims should have a path to prove their claims if an abuser files a libel or slander lawsuit — even if legal deadlines had passed. And finally, he said there should be increased penalties if an abuser commits perjury when testifying about sexual abuse of a child.

It’s not clear what will come from Tuesday’s hearing. But Powers-Barnhard and Romias received a warm reception from the panel led by Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, and Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy.

Bush thanked the women “for not just telling your story once, but telling it over and over and over again until somebody pays better attention.”

“You just rocked our world, really,” Bush said.

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