Report: OSU doctor abused 177 students
Law firm says Strauss’ misconduct was known but police never told.
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.