Lawsuit: ‘Cheer’ Coach, Navarro College Tried To Cover Up A Cheerleader’s Sexual Assault
10:58 AM EDT on May 1, 2023
A former Navarro cheerleader has sued the famous cheerleading program—featured in both seasons of the Netflix series Cheer—saying she was sexually assaulted in 2021 by a fellow cheerleader. But when she tried to report what had happened, she alleges, she was told by her head coach, the police, the college's Title IX coordinator, and even her fellow cheerleaders that she should just stay quiet.
The lawsuit was filed last week in a Texas federal court. Its named defendants include Navarro College, cheer head coach Monica Aldama, athletic director Michael Landers, as well as the college's Title IX coordinator and the cheerleader who is accused of assaulting her.
In response to the lawsuit, both Navarro and Aldama have issued statements. Per WFAA, which ran the statement in full, the Corsicana, Texas, college said it denied "any allegations of wrongdoing and is prepared to vigorously defend itself in court." In her own statement, Aldama called the allegations against her "false" and "wildly inaccurate." She added: "I am a rules follower. I always follow all appropriate procedures regarding reporting and responding to any allegations of misconduct in the Navarro Cheer program. I make sure to report, and encourage others to report, any allegations of harassment, discrimination, or assault to appropriate authorities and officials. I would never remain silent, or ask any student to remain silent, if I were aware that any sexual misconduct occurred in the Cheer program."
According to the lawsuit, the accuser was a rookie cheerleader in the fall of 2021, and the assault happened in the early hours of Sept. 2. Earlier that evening, the young woman says she went to a nearby town to visit her boyfriend, then came back, did some homework, and went to bed. She was woken up by her roommate, a fellow rookie cheerleader, who asked her to walk with her to another cheerleader's dorm room so she could invite him over. The young woman agreed to do this because "the dorm parking lot was not safe at dark," then went back to bed while her roommate, her roommate's boyfriend, and a third cheerleader who had been invited over hung out in the dorm's living room, the lawsuit said.
At some point, the roommate and her boyfriend went into the bedroom, the lawsuit said. The third cheerleader also went into the bedroom and got into the accuser's bed, according to the lawsuit, where he removed her underwear and pants, then groped her chest, and digitally penetrated her. The young woman screamed for him to stop and eventually she was able to push him away, the lawsuit said. She told him to leave the dorm, and he left, per the suit.
The lawsuit does not say what the roommate or the roommate's boyfriend did from that point on. What the lawsuit says next was that the young woman told several teammates about what happened, and they responded by encouraging her to go to a party that night. At the party, a veteran cheerleader, who also appeared on the show, told her "you just need to drink it off and get your mind off of it" and said that was because "that's what Navarro girls do—they drink. We don't tell anyone. We just keep it to ourself," according to the lawsuit. The veteran also told her to not tell Aldama because "there was no reason to stress her out," the lawsuit said, and doing so might cause Navarro to cut cheerleading and "everyone would know why" and hate her for it.
The following day, the same veteran cheerleader had the accused assaulter go to the young woman's dorm and apologize to her, while two other male cheerleaders went with him. These two additional male cheerleaders, per the lawsuit, were told to "escort Plaintiff everywhere to ensure that she did not report the assault."
At some point, when the young woman was not being watched by these male cheerleaders, she called her boyfriend and told him what happened, according to the lawsuit. The boyfriend then got several of his friends and drove to Navarro, where the boyfriend "exchanged words" with another male cheerleader who was guarding the door of the accused assaulter, per the lawsuit. Afterward, the male cheerleader guarding the door reported the boyfriend to police for assaulting him—while the boyfriend also reported the sexual assault of his girlfriend to the police, according to the lawsuit. When police arrived, they told the boyfriend that he and his friends had to leave, which they did.
They left, along with the accuser. As they were leaving, they noticed a vehicle following them, per the suit. The vehicle included several veteran cheerleaders, who pointed guns at them and "threatened to kill them for reporting the assault," according to the lawsuit.
At some point afterward, the accuser called Aldama to talk about what happened. In the lawsuit, she recalled Aldama saying, "Let's not make this a big deal. I want the best for you and I will help you cheer wherever you want." The young woman quit the cheer team. When she told Aldama this, she recalled Aldama saying again, "If you keep quiet, I'll make sure you can cheer anywhere you want."
The woman reported her sexual assault to campus police but, per her lawsuit, "police discouraged her from [reporting], and informed her that this type of thing happens all the time, that she can report the assault, but that nothing will happen because nothing ever happens."
The woman also reported what happened to Navarro's Title IX office. But, according to the lawsuit, that person told her that "the office did not have the proper documentation to report a sexual assault," discouraged her from reporting the assault, and told the young woman that the closest rape kit would require a drive to Waco or Dallas, more than 50 miles away. She said the Title IX coordinator told her, per her suit: "The public hearing is always embarrassing and does more harm to the victim than good."
Several weeks later, the young woman's mother contacted campus police and the Title IX office to see what was going on with her daughter's case. The police told her all charges had been dropped, and the Title IX office told her that "nothing happened with those allegations," per the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also discussed a long-running mystery from the Netflix show. In both seasons, Navarro cheerleaders were often seen wearing gear that said FIOFMU, but what that stood for was never explained—and, when asked, every Navarro cheerleader, as well as Aldama, has said nothing. The lawsuit, in explaining Navarro's team culture, said this: "Rookies were encouraged to earn the letters 'FIOFMU', which stand for 'fight it out, fuck em' up!' Coaches and veterans determined who earned letters." The lawsuit said the letters were "currency in a dark game where coaches and veterans bribed rookies to run errands, party, and perform sexual favors."
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or by visiting them here.