'It eats at the soul': Mother of Rockstar Cheer victim describes culture of silence and abuse




  • In US
  • 2022-09-28 14:35:25Z
  • By The State
 

For this mother, it all started with one of the good ones. She had liked Chris Hinton, one of her daughter's coaches at the elite Rockstar cheerleading gym in Greenville.

"He seems really nice," she remembered telling her 14-year-old daughter.

"And she's like, 'Mom, no, he's not as nice as you think'... She just broke down and said, 'He forced me to do something.'"

This offhand comment in 2015 started a mother's seven-year-long struggle to get justice, which until now had felt stalled at every turn.

The mother of the girl now known only in lawsuits as "Jane Doe 7" says that since her daughter first reported the assault, leadership at the cheerleading gym, a national cheerleading association, and law enforcement have ignored or downplayed the claims of abuse, allegations that are repeated in the lawsuit.

In an interview with The State and two other news outlets, the girl's mother, whose name is being withheld because of the allegations that her daughter is a sexual assault victim, described how an alleged culture of silence and sexual abuse festered inside of Rockstar Cheer, inflicting lifelong harm on promising young athletes.

For her daughter, that has meant years of PTSD, anxiety and depression. There is the constant, lurking sense that men in authority cannot be trusted.

"(My daughter's) life has forever been changed based on what she went through and the things she saw," said her mother.

The girl is one of nine victims included in a federal lawsuit filed by the Strom Law Firm of Columbia. Defendants in the case include Rockstar's leadership, several coaches, among them Chris Hinton, and the United States All Star Federation, one of competitive cheer's main regulatory bodies.

Allegations about Rockstar's dark underbelly have emerged rapidly since the death of Scott Foster, who founded the powerhouse cheerleading gym with his wife, Kathy. Foster killed himself in Paris Mountain State Park on Aug. 22, after learning that the federal Department of Homeland Security was investigating him for dissemination of child pornography.

Since then, two lawsuits have been filed against the Fosters and their now-closed cheerleading gym.

Doe's mother has said that her family has been concerned about them coming forward. They've told her that they worry it's going to be too hard, too painful.

"This is not hard… what has been hard is having it be silent since 2016," she said. "It eats the soul."

A Culture of Abuse

As a single parent, the mother wanted everything for her two daughters. So when her girls told her that they wanted to become cheerleaders, she gave it her all. She worked three, sometimes four, jobs to keep her girls in cheer.

She had trust issues, she said, but she dealt with them by taking a job at the gym where her daughters learned how to tumble, land flips, and balance one-legged on top of a human pyramid. For years, Rockstar Cheer became their world.

But suddenly that world turned on them when she discovered that Hinton had allegedly assaulted her daughter, who had also been receiving nude videos from another coach, Nathan Allan Plank, according to the lawsuit.

According to the mother, the pattern of behavior at Rockstar followed a model set by its founder, Scott Foster. The gym's elite reputation, as well as its open and accepted bacchanalian culture, provided cover for predatory coaches and rampant substance abuse, she said.

"I'm sure they're walking on eggshells," said the mother. "They all should be shaking… Every single coach there, during that time, was well aware of what was going on."

In the lawsuit filed in federal court, the girl alleges that in 2015 the 25-year-old Hinton invited her to his apartment to watch a movie. He began interrogating her about her sex life. Hinton then demanded that she perform oral sex on him, according to the lawsuit. She was just 14 at the time.

Soon, the mother found out that her daughter had allegedly been preyed on starting when she was 13 by another coach, Nathan Allan Plank. A coach for one of Rockstar's top teams, Plank had allegedly sent her daughter videos of himself committing a solo sex act and groped and inappropriately touched her, according to the lawsuit.

Immediately after she reported being assaulted, the daughter begged her mom not to tell anyone. "They'll take me off the team!" the mother remembers her daughter saying. In the lawsuit, the daughter remembers feeling too afraid to stand up for herself against well respected coaches.

"(Rockstar) is sought after all over the country," said the mother. "(The coaches have) huge social media followings, and huge ability to say, you're worth nothing or you're worth something."

Rockstar Greenville has almost 28,000 Instagram followers. Hinton, who has been placed on a banned list by USASF, still has over 40,000 Instagram followers.

After she found out what happened to her daughter, the mother remembers storming across the gym to confront a group of coaches, demanding that they take action. Instead, she says, she was stonewalled.

"We're not surprised," she remembers one coach saying. "We can't get involved," said another.

The reason, the mother believes, was because Scott Foster set the tone for the gym.

Foster was both an employer and mentor to many of the young coaches, including some from bad family situations, the mother said. "(He) was molding these young boys, who had not the best childhoods… into this thing that had been normalized in the gym."

Foster began his cheerleading career at the University of Louisville, which hosts one of the country's most sought after cheerleading programs. In 2007, Foster and his wife founded the first Rockstar gym in Greenville, SC. Rockstar went on to field national championship teams and was franchised across the U.S., setting up gyms in states including New Jersey, Georgia, and Arizona.

But in court documents, Foster has been accused of soliciting nude images and performing sex acts with underage athletes. Foster is alleged in the lawsuit to have provided athletes with alcohol, marijuana, and GHB (a powerful sedative used to treat narcolepsy) and he is alleged in to have maintained an apartment in Greenville where he partied with athletes and coaches.

"The first thing you see is a lot of substance usage, a lot of alcohol usage with the athletes and coaches," said the mother.

In 2017, Foster received a temporary suspension from USASF after videos circulated of him drinking with athletes, according to the Strom firm's lawsuit. Foster's name did not appear in a search of the organization's archived website. USASF has not returned multiple phone calls and emails requesting a comment on the allegations.

"You have people you look up to who are doing things that are horrible," the mother said. "What does that do to an innocent mind?"

An Indifferent Reporting System

For the mother, the revelation that coaches had abused her daughter was just the beginning of the nightmare. Everywhere she turned, her attempt to raise the alarm was met with silence.

She ended up getting in touch with a local USASF liaison after the main office wouldn't take her complaint, she says. On the phone she told the representative what happened to her daughter.

"'This is a dirty sport,'" the representative told her, according to the mom. "My recommendation to you is if you don't like what you see at that gym, go find another.'"

Both the girl and her mother soon found that there was little motivation either inside or outside of the prestigious cheerleading gym to investigate their allegations.

Desperate, Doe's mother said that between November 2015 to December 2016 she submitted multiple complaints to the Greenville County Sheriff's Department under a pseudonym. She says she never heard back. The Greenville sheriff's department has stated that it has no record of any complaints against individuals named in the various lawsuits against Rockstar Cheer.

USASF has designated Plank temporarily ineligible to coach cheer pending the outcome of the Strom firm's lawsuit

Hinton has been placed on the USASF's permanent ineligibility list for a "policy violation related to athlete protection." USASF did not provide any additional information about the policy violation.

"(USASF) weren't able to help me," the mother said. "I felt so desperate, that I looked into hiring someone to beat the s--- out of them. I'm not joking. Nobody cared, and I just wanted them to pay," Doe's mother said.

Finally, in 2017, having been blocked at every turn, she withdrew her daughters from Rockstar Cheer.

"You see it continuing," she said, "and they're taking your money."

The Long Aftermath

The abuse that her daughter suffered from Rockstar continues to haunt her, her mother says. Years after leaving Rockstar she picked up her daughter from a driving safety class only to find her crying uncontrollably.

Her daughter believed that the male teacher was sexualizing her.

"It's not like a scrape on your knee that goes away. It has changed the trajectory of her life: How she views males, how people see people of authority. In every aspect, it has changed her life, and nobody has cared," Doe's mother said.

Her daughter suffers from depression and anxiety. While her daughter goes to therapy, she told her mother that the pain of reliving the trauma is nearly unbearable.

But for the mother, so much of the pain comes from the lingering knowledge that when they tried to sound the alarm, no one listened

The community that surrounded them at Rockstar allegedly turned their backs on the family when she left the gym in 2017. Other parents made excuses, and minimized the accusations.

"They said, 'no, your daughter had to have done something,'" said the mother. "She was 13."

But it was both of her daughters, she says, who had to suffer the onslaught of online bullying and ostracization.

After the girls left the gym, Scott Foster allegedly blocked them on social media.

"How stupid and bullying that is for grown a- adults to block 13, 14-year-old girls whose mother made the decision to not let them go back."

Since the lawsuit was filed, Doe's mother says that some members of the Rockstar community have cautiously reached out to her. Former coaches have sent messages on social media, ostensibly just to check in. One woman sent her a message saying she hoped to god that her daughter wasn't one of the Jane Does.

"She knew damn well they were."

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