Sarah Powers-Barnhard is now a top volleyball coach, but off the court, she wants to protect her players from an evil she says she endured as a teen.
She was just 16 when she claims she was first sexually abused by her volleyball coach.
“He stood up, took my hand and took me into the back room, undressed me and that was the first time I had ever had sex and it was uncomfortable,” she told Inside Edition. “It hurt.”
Once a rising star on the volleyball court in the Chicago area, she says the abuse lasted for two years.
Now 53, she says her coach, Rick Butler, groomed her by isolating her from the rest of the team.
“He said, ‘You need to understand. To be great, you have to follow me blindly. You’re not like everybody else. You need to work harder. You need to listen to my instructions. You need to believe or you’re not going to reach your goals.’ And so I, of course, said yes,” she recalled.
Christine Tuzi also played top-level volleyball for Butler. She was brought to tears as she recalled alleged abuse at his hands.
“He backed me up against a sink, he kissed me, and put his hands down my pants,” she recalled.
She says Butler wrote her several dozen letters, including one where he wrote, “It comes down to the fact that I love you very much and I feel like I’m losing you. We have the most special relationship I’ve ever known and I feel like it is coming to an end.”
“A lot of people refer to these as love letters,” she added. “That’s very hard for me. These are anything but love. They’re abuse letters, not love.”
Butler has been “banned for life” from USA Volleyball, but, he still coaches and runs a volleyball facility in Aurora, Ill. He has never been arrested or faced criminal charges.
Inside Edition recently approached Butler and asked about the claims made by Tuzi and Powers-Barnhard’s.
Butler claims he “never sexually abused any individual,” but has admitted to having sex with three of his former players, including Tuzi and Powers-Barnhard, saying they were all consensual relationships that began after the women turned 18.
“When the victims were playing for Rick Butler they saw him as a god,” Jay Edelson, an attorney for the women, told Inside Edition. “They saw him as the most powerful male figure in their lives. The fact that they later would have to take him on was incredibly daunting to them.”
Like the gymnasts who were victimized by disgraced Team USA doctor Larry Nassar, the former volleyball players are now speaking out.
“We can’t have this in our sports arenas any more, and the only way to do it is victims like us speaking up — the swimmers, the skaters, the gymnasts — we’re all sisters in it,” Powers-Barnhard said.
The two women have joined forces in a federal class action lawsuit seeking to prevent Butler from coaching minors.
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