Chicago — A Northwestern University cheerleader hopes her lawsuit against the school “sets precedent for all female athletes” who will not stay quiet about being “sexually exploited.”
Hayden Richardson details allegations of sexual exploitation, Title IX violations and harassment by alumni and donors in a lawsuit against the university, cheerleading coach and a Title IX coordinator claiming they allowed the team “to be sexually exploited and subjected to a hostile environment including groping, harassment, and sexual touching by older alumni and intoxicated football fans for the University’s financial gain.”
“Northwestern essentially defiled its cheerleaders and encouraged them to be temptresses and courtesans,” according to the lawsuit.
The 22-year-old and her teammates were forced to attend tailgates and fundraising events, where they were required to take photographs with high net worth donors and smile, regardless of how they were being treated, all the while being prohibited from speaking to each other, the lawsuit states.
“Northwestern knowingly recruited young women as athletes and then, used them for a totally different purpose,” Richardson, an Honors Political Science and Legal Studies student, told YR Media.
When she came forward to the head coach, she was instructed to “take it” or say “Go Cats.” And if she did not comply, she would be terminated from the team, lose all cheerleading scholarships and be forced to repay any expenses incurred while on the team, according to the lawsuit.
An initial violation to Title IX occurred when the head coach told Richardson that she had to collect her own evidence rather than responding to the incident. And when she did, she was accused of making up the evidence, the lawsuit states.
Another violation of the policy occurred when after an investigation was begun, the university’s Deputy Title IX Coordinator at the time “relegated [Richardson] to witness status,” stripping her “of her status, rights, and accommodations as a Title IX complainant,” according to the lawsuit.
After years of enduring “exploitation and sexual misconduct,” Richardson brought the lawsuit forward to “obtain relief” from the “emotional distress, mental anguish, lost educational and career opportunities, and other direct and consequential damages,” the lawsuit states.
Andrew Miltenberg, a New York-based, leading Title IX attorney, represents Richardson.
“We believe that Ms. Richardson’s allegations fall squarely within the scope of both Title IX and federal sex trafficking statutes. We look forward to Ms. Richardson having her day in court.” he said, commending her for coming forward.
Richardson stressed sexual exploitation will not be tolerated.
“I’m hoping this case sets precedent for all female athletes that we are not going to be sexually exploited. And for the greater community, I hope this just raises awareness that they understand that not only is this unacceptable, it’s illegal,” she said
It was critical that she spoke up for not just herself, but others, she said.
“It was just essential that I come out and talk about this because, as I've seen with all of the women who came before me, once they left, their experience was basically invalidated and didn’t exist,” said Richardson, adding, “It’s not comfortable, and it’s not easy by any means but I just couldn’t allow anyone else to be subjected to the same things that I was and my teammates were.”
And to those considering coming forward about similar experiences, she said, “I just want everyone to know that their experiences are valid. Whatever decision you make, it’s not a right one, it’s not a wrong one. There’s not a more brave decision than others.”
Northwestern University did not respond to a request for comment.