Re­port: Ohio St. did lit­tle to halt doc­tor’s sex abuse

Centre Daily Times - - Front Page - BY KANTELE FRANKO AND JULIE CARR SMYTH

A now-dead Ohio State team doc­tor sex­u­ally abused at least 177 male stu­dents from the 1970s through the 1990s, and nu­mer­ous uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials got wind of what was go­ing on over the years but did lit­tle or noth­ing to stop him, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the school Friday.

Dr. Richard Strauss groped or ogled young men while treat­ing ath­letes from at least 16 sports and work­ing at the stu­dent health cen­ter and his off-cam­pus clinic, in­ves­ti­ga­tors from a law firm hired by the uni­ver­sity found.

“We are so sorry that this hap­pened,” Ohio State Pres­i­dent Michael Drake said at a news con­fer­ence, us­ing words like “shock­ing,” “hor­ri­fy­ing” and “heartbreak­ing” to de­scribe the find­ings.

He said there was a “con­sis­tent in­sti­tu­tional fail­ure” that spanned years, adding that Ohio State — the nation’s third-largest uni­ver­sity, with al­most 65,000 stu­dents and nearly a half-mil­lion

liv­ing alumni — “fell short of its re­spon­si­bil­ity to its stu­dents, and that’s re­gret­table and in­ex­cus­able.”

At the same time, Drake, who has led the institutio­n since 2014, sought to dis­tance Ohio State from what hap­pened more than two decades ago: “This is not the uni­ver­sity of to­day.”

The re­port on Strauss, who killed him­self in 2005 nearly a decade af­ter he was qui­etly pushed out, could cost Ohio State dearly by cor­rob­o­rat­ing law­suits brought against it by a mul­ti­tude of vic­tims.

The find­ings put Strauss in a league with gym­nas­tics doc­tor Larry Nas­sar of Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity, who was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing at least 250 women and girls and is serv­ing what amounts to a life sen­tence. Michi­gan State ul­ti­mately set­tled with his vic­tims for $500 mil­lion.

Sim­i­larly, the Jerry San­dusky child sex­ual-abuse scan­dal that brought down leg­endary Penn State foot­ball coach Joe Paterno in 2011 has cost the uni­ver­sity more than a quar­ter-bil­lion dol­lars in set­tle­ments, fines, le­gal costs and other ex­penses.

Many of Strauss’ ac­cusers who have spo­ken pub­licly said they were mas­tur­bated or oth­er­wise touched in­ap­pro­pri­ately dur­ing phys­i­cal ex­ams or leered at in the locker rooms. Many told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that they thought his be­hav­ior was an “open se­cret” and that they be­lieved their coaches, train­ers and other team doc­tors knew was go­ing on.

The stu­dents de­scribed the ex­am­i­na­tions as be­ing “hazed” or go­ing through a “rite of pas­sage.” Ath­letes joked about Strauss’ be­hav­ior, re­fer­ring to him with nick­names like “Dr. Jelly Paws.”

The abuse went on from 1979 to 1997, nearly Strauss’ en­tire time at Ohio State, and took place ace at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions across cam­pus, in­clud­ing med­i­cal ex­am­in­ing rooms, locker rooms, show­ers and saunas, ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Strauss, among other things, forced stu­dent pa­tients to strip naked, pur­port­edly to “as­sess” their con­di­tions, or lured them into in­ti­mate sit­u­a­tions by set­ting up bo­gus “med­i­cal stud­ies.”

The re­port con­cluded that scores of Ohio State per­son­nel knew of com­plaints and con­cerns about Strauss’ con­duct as early as 1979 but failed for years to in­ves­ti­gate or take mean­ing­ful ac­tion.

Ohio State Provost Bruce McPheron said the re­port does not ad­dress whether anyone went to law en­force­ment at the time or was re­quired to do so un­der the law back then.

In the wake of the re­port, some of Strauss’ vic­tims called on the uni­ver­sity to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for its in­ac­tion and the harm in­flicted by the doc­tor.

“Dreams were bro­ken, re­la­tion­ships with loved ones were dam­aged, and the harm now car­ries over to our chil­dren as many of us have be­come so over­pro­tec­tive that it strains the re­la­tion­ship with our kids,” Kent Kil­gore said in a state­ment.

Steve Estey, an at­tor­ney for some of the for­mer stu­dents who are su­ing, said: “If OSU re­fuses to take re­spon­si­bil­ity we will con­tinue with civil lit­i­ga­tion and put this in front of a jury for 12 peo­ple to judge their ac­tions.”

No one has pub­licly de­fended Strauss, though fam­ily members have said they were shocked by the al­le­ga­tions.

At least 50 members of the ath­letic de­part­ment staff, in­clud­ing many coaches, cor­rob­o­rated vic­tims’ ac­counts of Strauss’ abuse, the re­port said. But stu­dents’ al­le­ga­tions never left the de­part­ment or the health cen­ter un­til 1996.

At that point, Strauss was in­ves­ti­gated and let go as a team doc­tor and physi­cian at the health cen­ter but was al­lowed to re­tain his tenured fac­ulty po­si­tion.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors said Strauss set up an off-cam­pus clinic within months, re­ceiv­ing as­sur­ances from the as­so­ciate vice pres­i­dent of health sci­ences and aca­demic af­fairs that “there would be no is­sue” with him en­gag­ing in part-time pri­vate prac­tice while on the fac­ulty. The abuse con­tin­ued there.

He con­tin­ued to plead for his job back as an on­cam­pus doc­tor, fi­nally go­ing to then-Pres­i­dent Gordon Gee with a let­ter in 1997. His pleas were re­jected, at which point Strauss was al­lowed to re­tire with emer­i­tus sta­tus, a mark of dis­tin­guished ser­vice – an honor the uni­ver­sity is now tak­ing steps to re­voke.

Gee, now pres­i­dent of West Vir­ginia Uni­ver­sity, said Friday he has no rec­ol­lec­tion of Strauss.

The law­suits against Ohio State are headed for me­di­a­tion. They seek un­spec­i­fied dam­ages. Drake said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion alone has cost the school $6.2 mil­lion.

Sep­a­rately, the U.S. Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment’s Of­fice for Civil Rights is ex­am­in­ing whether Ohio State re­sponded promptly and fairly to stu­dents’ com­plaints. The de­part­ment could cut the uni­ver­sity’s fed­eral fund­ing if it is found to have vi­o­lated civil rights pro­tec­tions.

Be­fore Friday’s re­lease, the doc­tor’s ac­cusers had al­leged that Ohio Repub­li­can Rep. Jim Jor­dan was one of the coaches back then who were aware of con­cerns about Strauss and didn’t stop him. Jor­dan, an as­sis­tant wrestling coach from 1987 to 1995, was not men­tioned by name in the re­port, and a spokesman said the doc­u­ment showed the con­gress­man did not know about the abuse.

JAY LAPRETE AP

Ohio State Pres­i­dent Michael Drake, left, and Provost Bruce McPheron an­swer ques­tions about team doc­tor Richard Strauss on Friday.

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