Accusers of volleyball coach Rick Butler to speak at state senate hearing

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The Illinois state senate is expected to hear testimony next week from women who say Rick Butler abused them as teens. | File photo

The Illinois State Senate is taking an interest in embattled west suburban volleyball coach Rick Butler.

A task force chaired by Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, and Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, has invited two women who have accused Butler of sexual abuse and his former business partner to speak at a hearing in Springfield on May 15.

“I’ll be there,” said Sarah Powers-Barnhard, one of the accusers. “Whenever anyone asks me to show up, I show up.”

BACKGROUND: The Chicago Sun-Times’ series on coach Rick Butler Rick Butler hit with class-action lawsuit over sexual abuse claims Amateur Athletic Union bans volleyball coach Rick Butler after abuse accusations Rick Butler calls lawsuit ‘hearsay within hearsay,’ wants it tossed

Butler accuser Julie Romias will speak, along with Kay Rogness, who helped Butler start Sports Performance, the Aurora-based club volleyball powerhouse.

Attorney Jay Edelson — who is leading a federal class-action lawsuit against Butler, filed by Laura Mullen, the mother of a player —  will also speak to the task force. He says the legislature has bigger things in mind than just the Butler saga.

“There is a huge problem in youth sports where victims generally don’t come forward soon enough to get to pursue their rights,” Edelson said. “There have been statute of limitations changes but it is very tricky to make them retroactive. We are trying to do this more holistically and more creatively, talking about how we can protect people right now that might have been victimized years ago.”

The Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State University has made sexual abuse in youth sports a hot topic all around the country.

“It seems if you talk to a high school girl who is active in sports she is going to have a story, whether it is about her or a friend or someone she knows and that is really scary,” Edelson said. “The Rick Butler lawsuit is a spotlight on to a much bigger issue. To us this is a huge issue throughout Illinois. We’ve seen it with gymnastics and swimming at a national level.”

Since the start of 2018, Butler has been banned by the Amateur Athletic Union and the Wisconsin-based Junior Volleyball Association. USA Volleyball, the sport’s national governing body, also announced a ban in January.

This all came more than 20 years after USA Volleyball first banned Butler from its ranks. That happened in 1995 after Powers-Barnhard, Romias and Christine Tuzi alleged he sexually abused them in the 1980s while he was their coach and they were under 18.

The allegations of another Butler accuser, Beth Rose, were first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times in the November series “Net Pains.” And Mullen’s lawsuit alleged Butler raped a sophomore player in his shower in the 1980s.

Butler has denied any wrongdoing and has never been charged with a crime, though his accusers note the relevant statutes of limitations had expired before they came forward.

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