Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Saturday, May 18, 2019 1:00 am

Ohio State finds doctor abused 177 male students

Rick Maese | Washington Post

An Ohio State team doctor sexually abused at least 177 male students from 1979 to 1996, and school officials failed to take appropriate action despite being aware of numerous reports of the physician's misconduct over the 17-year period, according to an investigative report released Friday.

The abuse included athletes from at least 15 sports and also encompassed other students who saw physician Richard Strauss at the school's student health center and an off-campus clinic.

According to the report, the school “had knowledge” of sexually abusive treatment from Strauss as early as 1979, “but reports about Strauss' conduct were not elevated beyond the Athletics Department or Student Health until 1996.”

The report found male students regularly complained “that Strauss routinely performed excessive – and seemingly medically unnecessary – genital exams, regardless of the medical condition the student-patients presented.”

Strauss died in 2005. He was employed by the university from 1978 to 1998 but was suspended from his work as a treating physician in January 1996 after a patient accused Strauss of fondling him during a genital examination. Strauss continued in his role as a tenured faculty member, though, and was allowed to retire voluntarily.

The school said it has initiated the process to revoke the faculty emeritus status that was conferred upon Strauss.

“On behalf of the university, we offer our profound regret and sincere apologies to each person who endured Strauss' abuse,” Ohio State President Michael V. Drake wrote in a message to the campus community on Friday. “Our institution's fundamental failure at the time to prevent this abuse was unacceptable – as were the inadequate efforts to thoroughly investigate complaints raised by students and staff members.”

The report, which is expected to cost the school $6.2 million, was the result of a yearlong investigation by the law firm the Perkins, Coie LLP, which conducted 600 interviews with 520 people, including hundreds of former students.

The investigators heard firsthand accounts of abuse from 177 victims but made clear there could have been more and noted that an additional 38 people reported an abusive experience with an Ohio State doctor but could not identify Strauss with complete certainty.

Much of the report focused on how much school officials knew and whether anyone took appropriate actions to stop Strauss.

“Many of the students felt that Strauss' behavior was an 'open secret,' as it appeared to them that their coaches, trainers, and other team physicians were fully aware of Strauss' activities, and yet few seemed included to do anything to stop it,” the report stated.

School officials never reported Strauss' behavior to law enforcement.

“As we suspected from the outset, OSU knew but intentionally failed to act upon the many cries for help by the hundreds of OSU male students who suffered sexual abuse by Dr. Strauss,” said Scott Smith, an attorney representing victims who are suing the school. “The systemic sexual abuse, although preventable, was horrifically nurtured by OSU when they chose not to act, turning a blind eye to those they had a duty to protect.”

While some former Ohio State wrestlers have publicly said that Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, must have known about the abuse during Jordan's tenure as an assistant wrestling coach from 1987 to 1995, the report doesn't mention Jordan by name.

“We're glad it's done and we're glad the university, for those individuals who were harmed, we're glad the university has agreed to pay for counseling. But it confirms exactly what I've said all along: that I didn't know any type of harm to athletes,” Jordan said Friday. “If I did, I would have done something about it.”

Three groups of plaintiffs have sued Ohio State, and the school says it is actively participating in mediation.