COLUMBUS, Ohio. — Ohio State University personnel were aware of complaints that a school doctor had sexually abused students as early as the late 1970s, but failed to adequately investigate the allegations, according to a report released Friday.
The report the university released was compiled by independent investigators and details acts of sexual abuse believed to be carried out by the late Dr. Richard Strauss against at least 177 students while he worked at the school between 1978 and 1998.
“The report concludes that university personnel at the time had knowledge of complaints and concerns about Strauss’ conduct as early as 1979 but failed to investigate or act meaningfully,” the university said in a statement.
In a message sent to the OSU community, President Michael Drake said the report’s “findings are shocking and painful to comprehend.”
The allegations against Strauss — who died by suicide in 2005 — emerged last year after former Ohio State athletes came forward to claim the doctor had sexually abused them under the guise of a medical examination.
The university announced last April it had hired a law firm to investigate Strauss’ alleged misconduct.
OSU apologizes for ‘fundamental failure’ to act
“On behalf of the university, we offer our profound regret and sincere apologies to each person who endured Strauss’ abuse,” Drake said. “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.”
Drake credited the completion of the investigation to the “strength and courage of survivors” who were willing to share their experiences.
US Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a former OSU wrestler and assistant coach, came under scrutiny last year when former teammates said he knew about Strauss’ alleged abuse.
Jordan has repeatedly denied having any knowledge of the abuse, and a statement from his office Friday reiterated that point.
“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,” the statement said in part.
Mike DiSabato, a former wrestler for OSU who said Jordan was aware of the abuse, said he felt vindicated by the report’s findings, but was saddened to learn that others suffered similar abuse.
“I hope today’s report will provide other survivors who suffered abuse by Dr. Strauss and OSU, the courage and strength to come forward and tell their stories,” DiSabato said in a statement provided to CNN, also noting that he’s “looking forward to (his) day in court.”
Complaints of abuse persisted for years
The report — compiled by investigators from the law firm Perkins Coie — said Strauss sexually abused “at least 177 male student-patients.”
Some of those victims came under treatment by Strauss because he was a team physician in the OSU Athletics Department, the report said. Others he treated as a physician in the Student Health Center or as part of “other pursuits,” the report said.
Some of the abuse was more obvious and “overt,” investigators found, while some of it was “more subtle” and “masked with a pretextual medical purpose.”
The investigation found that on at least two occasions, Strauss performed unwanted oral sex on patients. Over 100 former patients reported excessive groping or fondling, often without gloves. Other patients recalled inappropriate rectal exams, impromptu exams in locker rooms and at Strauss’ home, and unprofessional interrogation into their sex lives.
More than 50 individuals who were members of the OSU Athletics Department staff during Strauss’ employment corroborated former student accounts that Strauss’ examination methods were like “an open secret” and that students complained about his loitering around the showers and locker rooms.
Scott Smith, an attorney who says he represents more than 50 alleged victims of Dr. Richard Strauss, told CNN that Friday’s report is “more damning than we suspected.”
“It reveals not only a cover-up, but a nurturing of sexual abuse systemically created by Dr. Strauss during his 20 years at OSU. Ohio State’s actions are indefensible, appalling and unforgivable,” Smith said.
Allegations of abuse were made as early as Strauss’ first year at the school, the report said, and continued throughout the next two decades.
Yet those complaints went no further than the Athletics and Student Health departments until 1996, according to the report. That’s when Strauss was suspended after a student accused him of abuse during an examination at the Student Health clinic.
“Student C” makes a formal complaint
In January 1996, an OSU athlete went to see Strauss for a urinary tract infection evaluation. Unbeknownst to the student, identified in the report only as “Student C,” two formal complaints were already lodged against Strauss the previous year.
Student C reported that during the appointment, Strauss began pressing, caressing, and fondling his genitals. Despite Student C telling Strauss he felt uncomfortable, Strauss told him it was a necessary part of the exam.
Strauss continued to fondle him, until Student C experienced an erection and subsequent ejaculation. Student C said he grew increasingly upset about what happened and told Strauss he should not have done that. Student C says Strauss responded by saying “it didn’t seem like it was wrong” and that “it seemed like (C) kind of enjoyed it,” according to the report.
Ultimately, Student C filed a formal complaint with the university and Strauss was placed on administrative leave pending a university investigation.
Abuse on and off campus
OSU “undertook a very limited investigation of Strauss’ complaint history,” the report said. And while it ultimately ended with the doctor’s removal from the Athletics Department and Student Health, “his status as a tenured faculty member remained unaffected.”
The abuse continued at a private “men’s clinic” that Strauss had opened off campus with the approval of the school’s associate vice president of Health Sciences and Academic Affairs at the time. According to the report, the clinic specialized in sexually transmitted diseases and urological issues. Strauss was allowed to advertise the clinic in the student newspaper.
Strauss was aggressive in his efforts in trying to be reinstated as a university physician, but OSU informed him in October 1997 that it did not plan to take any further action regarding his case, the report states. Strauss remained a professor with OSU’s School of Public Health until his retirement in March 1998.