June 24, 2024

Three Butler Athletes Accuse Trainer of Sexual Assault During Massages

Three members of Butler University’s women’s soccer team are suing the school after an athletic trainer allegedly “groomed, illicitly photographed, and sexually assaulted” them and several of their teammates.

The lawsuits, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, claim that the three athletes—two of whom are still at the university—were routinely abused by now-former trainer Michael Howell. Howell is listed as a co-defendant in the trio of lawsuits from the three women, who are identified as Jane Does.

All three suits allege similar predatory behavior from Howell: that he abused “his position of power and authority over Butler athletes” to sexually assault them under the guise of routine athletic massages.

Howell’s alleged conduct, which included “rubbing his erect penis against female players and dripping his sweat on the athletes as he groped their outer vaginal areas, breasts, and nipples,” trace back many years and involve numerous other female athletes, the suits claim.

Jane Doe 2’s suit claims that Howell began sexually assaulting her when she was a freshman in 2019, and continued until fall 2021.

In one instance, she says she went to Howell for treatment on her neck.

“Howell began massaging her neck, but he quickly moved down to Ms. Doe’s hips and groin, massaged her under her shorts, touched her pubic hair, and rubbed her so forcefully that her groin was bruised and painful the next day,” the suit alleges.

The complaint says that Jane Doe 2 didn’t recognize Howell’s alleged behavior as sexually abusive until “several other teammates shared their concerns and experiences” with her.

She and three of her teammates reported the misconduct to their coach, who filed an incident report that prompted an investigation, the suit said. Despite that, Butler’s senior associate athletic director Ralph Reiff—also a co-defendant in the lawsuits—told Howell to come back to work, according to the suits.

When he did, Howell made numerous attempts to interact with and intimidate the women’s soccer players, despite being told to stay away from them, the suit says. He was put on administrative leave five days after returning to work.

After a five-month Title IX investigation, an independent panel determined that “there is simply no safe manner in which to allow him to proceed with his position at the University,” citing a “widespread pattern of inappropriate conduct,” the suit says.

“Butler has not reached out to a single former athlete to understand the depth of Howell’s misconduct, offer help to those who may be survivors of his abuse, or otherwise take responsibility for the harm caused to athletes by someone under its employ,” Jane Doe 2’s suit claims.

All three athletes are suing the school for negligence, battery, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Butler University confirmed that women on the soccer team reported misconduct by Howell in late September 2021.

“Upon being informed of the allegations, the University promptly notified law enforcement, removed Howell from campus and suspended him from his job duties, pending further investigation,” the statement said. “After a thorough investigation and hearing, the trainer was found responsible for violating University policies, and he was then terminated in summer 2022. Butler looks forward to the opportunity to show the high integrity and responsiveness of the coaches and senior personnel. Because the complaints do not name the plaintiffs and they have not waived federal student privacy protections, Butler is limited from further comment outside of the legal process.”

A person who answered a number listed as belonging to Howell declined to comment.

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