Ohio State University physician Richard Strauss sexually abused at least 177 students throughout his 20-year tenure, and university officials repeatedly failed to investigate or act on complaints about his conduct from as early as 1979, according to a long-awaited report released Friday morning.
When the university did undertake a limited investigation into the now-deceased doctor’s conduct in 1996, Strauss pushed back.
“Strauss persisted in protesting his removal from Athletics and Student Health,” and threatened to take legal action against the university and a student, according to the report’s executive summary.
Ohio State released the 180-page investigative report from Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie more than 13 months after it announced the first allegations against Strauss. The investigation included interviews with more than 500 individuals.
The investigation confirmed that Strauss began sexually abusing students in 1979 and stopped when he retired in 1998. It was determined that 80 of the 177 victims were abused in Strauss’ first 10 years at Ohio State.
Investigators consulted with two independent doctors to help determine the level of abuse by Strauss. Investigators noted that 22 of the 177 victims said they didn’t feel they had been abused.
Doctors determined that they did experience levels of abuse, which included an incident in which Strauss touched the genitals of a student who complained of a sore throat.
Thirty-eight people beyond the 177 identified victims reported being abused by an Ohio State employee but could not say whether Strauss was that employee.
Investigators determined that Strauss abused students in five ways:
• He massaged them to the point at which they ejaculated or nearly ejaculated.
• He abused them enough that the students had an erection.
• He would fondle or grope their genitals or conduct an unnecessary genital or rectal exam.
• He would get victims naked and touch their genitals, would make unnecessary comments about their bodies and genitals and would not wear gloves during examinations.
• He would shower with students, loiter in locker rooms and look at students as they changed clothes.
Of the 177 victims, 153 were student athletes or affiliated with athletic programs at Ohio State.
There were 48 members of the wrestling program, 16 from gymnastics, 15 from swimming and diving, 13 from soccer, 10 from lacrosse and seven each from hockey, track and field and baseball.
Four athletes each in the the cross country, volleyball and fencing programs reported abuse. Three tennis and three football players, two cheerleaders and two golfers also reported sexual abuse.
Also, six student employees and two club sport athletes reported inappropriate activity by Strauss.
Perkins Coie was asked to evaluate the sexual misconduct allegations against Strauss, who killed himself in 2005, as well as determine whether the university had knowledge of such allegations.
Investigators found that university personnel had knowledge of Strauss’ “sexually abusive treatment” of male student-patients as early as 1979, but “complaints and reports about Strauss’ conduct were not elevated beyond the Athletics Department or Student Health until 1996.”
The abuse ranged from subtle acts “masked with a pretextual medical purpose,” to the overt, such as “fondling to the point of erection and ejaculation,” the report’s summary said.
Despite early and repeated complaints about Strauss’ misconduct, he continued serving as an assistant professor in the College of Medicine. By 1980, he was associate director of the Sports Medicine program, and joined the athletics department shortly after, where he worked at a sports medicine clinic located within Ohio State’s Student Health Services department.
Over the years, his responsibilities as a team physician expanded beyond the teams based out of Larkins Hall, where he was known to shower with male students, to teams in other facilities across campus, including the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Ernie Biggs Training Facility, and St. John Arena, the report summary said.
Strauss’ behavior was not reported to law enforcement. The state medical board received a complaint about Strauss in 1996, but did not take disciplinary action, according to available records.
The doctor retired from Ohio State in 1998 and was granted an emeritus designation. The university has initiated the process to revoke Strauss’ emeritus faculty status.
“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 university-wide message 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 findings of the report have shaken us to our core,” Ohio State Board of Trustees Chairman Michael J. Gasser said in a news release. “The university is committed to supporting the safety and well-being of our entire community. The lessons of the past will continue to inform our efforts today and well into the future.”
Within months of announcing the investigation last year, hundreds of former students had reported they’d been abused by Strauss.
The investigation received increased national attention last July, when a number of former Ohio State wrestlers accused U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, of knowing about the abuse by Strauss. Jordan, who was an assistant wrestling coach at the university from 1986 to 1994, repeatedly said he knew nothing about the abuse.
The report’s release came a day after a federal judge denied Ohio State’s request to include certain confidential information from a 1996 State Medical Board investigation into Strauss, writing that the matter was not for him to decide because the university’s request did not pertain to using material from the probe as evidence in judicial proceedings.
Three lawsuits filed by former Ohio State students who said they were sexually abused by Strauss remain pending in U.S. District Court in Columbus. Ohio State officials said they “will continue to work with these survivors and through any process outlined by the court.”
On Thursday, lawmakers introduced a bill in the Ohio House of Representatives that would grant victims of sexual abuse by a university physician during the years of Strauss’ tenure the ability to bring civil action against the university, effectively removing the statute of limitations for such abuse.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education has been investigating Ohio State’s handling of the Strauss allegations since August. The department said then that it would “examine whether the university is responding promptly and equitably to complaints and reports by former students, including allegations that employees know or should have known about the sexual misconduct and allowed the abuse to continue.”