Re­port: OSU doc­tor abused 177 stu­dents

Law firm says Strauss’ mis­con­duct was known but po­lice never told.

Dayton Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - By Laura A. Bischoff Colum­bus Bureau

Over the course of COLUM­BUS — two decades, a physi­cian as­so­ci­ated with the Ohio State Univer­sity ath­letic de­part­ment sex­u­ally abused 177 male stu­dents at the school and while ad­min­is­tra­tors knew about the mis­con­duct as early as 1979 it was not re­ported to law enforcemen­t, ac­cord­ing to a 232-page in­ves­tiga­tive re­port re­leased Fri­day.

“It was shock­ing to read through this and to see the ex­tended pat­tern of abuse that Dr. (Richard) Strauss sub­jected our stu­dents to — shock­ing and ac­tu­ally hor­ri­fy­ing in many ways,” said Dr. Michael Drake, pres­i­dent of Ohio State Univer­sity. “There was a con­sis­tent in­sti­tu­tional fail­ure over many years by mul­ti­ple peo­ple to carry out their min­i­mum re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and that led to this tragedy.”

Drake of­fered apolo­gies to vic­tims and ex­pressed grat­i­tude for those who came for­ward.

The re­port, com­piled by law firm Perkins Coie at a cost of $6.2 mil­lion, in­volved in­ter­views with more than 500 peo­ple and re­view of 500 boxes of ma­te­rial. Sev­eral for­mer OSU em­ploy­ees de­clined to co­op­er­ate.

The re­port found that ath­letic di­rec­tors, ath­letic train­ers, as­sis­tant ath­letic di­rec­tors, team physi­cians and oth­ers knew of the com­plaints about Strauss.

One ath­letic trainer told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that peo­ple who over­lapped with Strauss for any sig­nif­i­cant time would have to have their “ears plugged, eyes shut, and mouth closed to not re­al­ize some­thing was off.”

The re­port de­tails graphic sex­ual abuse per­pe­trated by Strauss be­tween 1979 and 1998, when he re­tired and the univer­sity granted him emer­i­tus sta­tus.

He fon­dled stu­dents, made them strip un­der the guise of med­i­cal as­sess­ments and asked prob­ing ques­tions about their sex lives, abuse that es­ca­lated over time, the re­port said. One for­mer stu­dent told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that Strauss attempted to per­form oral sex on him dur­ing an exam. An­other for­mer stu­dent re­ported that Strauss mas­tur­bated in front of him dur­ing a med­i­cal ap­point­ment.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors said the sur­vivors’ ac­counts were cred­i­ble and cor­rob­o­rated by other records. They noted that male sex­ual abuse is un­der-re­ported due to stigma and that some stu­dents didn’t re­port abuse out of fear they’d lose their place on ath­letic teams or their schol­ar­ships.

While many of the men were re­luc­tant to re­live trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences or harm the univer­sity, “these men ex­plained to us that their own chil­dren are now col­lege-aged and that they want to help en­sure that some­thing ‘like this’ never hap­pened at OSU, or at any in­sti­tu­tion, again,” in­ves­ti­ga­tors said.

Strauss died by sui­cide in 2005 in Cal­i­for­nia.

The univer­sity is fac­ing mul­ti­ple law­suits from for­mer stu­dents who say they were vic­tim­ized by Strauss.

“Now that OSU has ad­mit­ted to a mon­u­men­tal and fun­da­men­tal fail­ure to pro­tect its stu­dents from sex­ual abuse, the tax­pay­ers for the state of Ohio should not be re­spon­si­ble for the neg­li­gence of Ohio State,” said Brian Gar­rett, who says he was abused by Strauss. “OSU is a unique state in­sti­tu­tion in that has its own fi­nan­cial as­sets that can pay for the harm caused to sex­ual abuse vic­tims.”

Strauss was a fac­ulty mem­ber, ath­let­ics doc­tor and stu­dent health cen­ter physi­cian. He served as the wrestling team doc­tor when U.S. Rep. Jim Jor­dan, R-Ur­bana, worked as an as­sis­tant coach. Jor­dan has de­nied ac­cu­sa­tions that he knew about the abuse but failed to re­port it.

Jor­dan’s name does not ap­pear in the re­port.

Jor­dan’s spokesman said: “The in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded what we have said from the be­gin­ning: Con­gress­man Jor­dan never knew of any abuse, and if he had he would have dealt with it. As il­lus­trated in the re­port, in­ves­ti­ga­tors ‘did not iden­tify any other con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that mem­bers of the OSU coach­ing staff, in­clud­ing head coaches or as­sis­tant coaches, re­ceived or were aware of com­plaints re­gard­ing Strauss’ sex­ual mis­con­duct.’”

Six­teen stu­dents told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that Strauss so­licited them to par­tic­i­pate in pri­vate pho­tog­ra­phy shoots or that the doc­tor pho­tographed them in the locker room. Swim­mers, gym­nasts, soc­cer play­ers and wrestlers re­ported that Strauss show­ered with them and leered at them in locker rooms.

“De­spite the per­sis­tence, se­ri­ous­ness, and reg­u­lar­ity” of ath­letes’ com­plaints, no mean­ing­ful ac­tion was taken un­til Jan­uary 1996 when a pa­tient at the stu­dent health cen­ter made a com­plaint, trig­ger­ing an internal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by top ad­min­is­tra­tors.

“Stu­dent C” saw Strauss for a uri­nary tract in­fec­tion and was fon­dled to the point of ejac­u­la­tion, the re­port said. Stu­dent C told oth­ers in the clinic wait­ing room to “all get out of there right away” be­cause the doc­tor was a “per­vert”; in­sisted on ob­tain­ing his med­i­cal records so Strauss couldn’t find him; re­ported the abuse to his mother, who backed up her son.

Strauss un­der­took “an ag­gres­sive ef­fort” to con­vince Stu­dent C to re­tract his com­plaint, the re­port said.

Strauss was fired as a univer­sity physi­cian but re­mained as a tenured fac­ulty mem­ber. Later he was given emer­i­tus sta­tus when he vol­un­tar­ily re­tired in March 1998.

Redacted from the re­port is in­for­ma­tion about an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the State Med­i­cal Board of Ohio. That in­for­ma­tion is con­fi­den­tial un­der state law but the univer­sity is ex­plor­ing av­enues to have it law­fully dis­closed.

Af­ter leav­ing the univer­sity, Strauss opened an off-cam­pus pri­vate men’s clinic, placed ads for the clinic in the stu­dent news­pa­per and hired OSU nurs­ing stu­dents. The abuse con­tin­ued there, the re­port said.

In 1997, Strauss lob­bied to be re­in­stated as a physi­cian at OSU, in­clud­ing meet­ings with Bill Napier, who served as sec­re­tary to the Board of Trustees and as ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant to then OSU Pres­i­dent E. Gor­don Gee. Strauss also con­tested his ter­mi­na­tion in let­ters to Gee. Strauss was not re­in­stated.

The re­port has been for­warded to Franklin County Prose­cu­tor Ron O’Brien, Colum­bus po­lice and the At­tor­ney Gen­eral. Perkins Coie did not have sub­poena power or au­thor­ity to in­ter­view wit­nesses un­der oath.

Drake and OSU Provost Bruce McPheron said Strauss’ mis­con­duct was per­pe­trated more than 20 years ago, Strauss has been dead for 14 years and Ohio State now has more ro­bust mech­a­nisms for re­port­ing abuse.

“Our univer­sity, to­day, is a very dif­fer­ent place than it would have been 20 or 30 or 40 years ago,” Drake said.

Michael DiSa­bato, a Dublin res­i­dent who was among the first to pub­licly ac­cuse Strauss of abuse, is­sued a state­ment through his at­tor­ney Fri­day in which he said “I am deeply sad­dened to hear the sto­ries of so many oth­ers who suf­fered sim­i­lar abuse by Dr. Strauss, while Ohio State turned a blind eye.”

Dr. Richard Strauss re­tired from OSU in 1998 and died in 2005.

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