A yearlong Ohio State University investigation has found that a doctor working for the school’s athletic teams and the student health center abused at least 177 students from 1979–97, according to a report released Friday. The investigation also concluded that a number of unnamed school officials, including coaches, trainers, and administrators, were aware of the allegations.
The doctor, Richard Strauss, died by suicide in 2005. He was suspended in 1996 when a patient accused him of fondling him during an examination. Many victims who have spoken out have described Strauss groping them, performing oral sex on them, rubbing them to ejaculation, or otherwise inappropriately touching them during physical exams—allegations similar to those made against USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who abused at least 250 women and girls and was sentenced to a total of 100 to 185 years in prison.
But unlike Nassar, Strauss preyed on male athletes. As a result, many students—unaware or ashamed to admit that men could be victims of sexual abuse—sometimes described Strauss’ behavior as “hazing” or in other ways joked about it, as several victims explained to the New York Times for an article last year. The victims said in the report that Strauss’ predatory behavior was an “open secret” and that team and school officials had been made aware.
The law firm that investigated the accusations concluded from its 600 interviews that the school “had knowledge” of Strauss’ abusive behavior as early as 1979, according to USA Today. “[R]eports about Strauss’ conduct were not elevated beyond the Athletics Department or Student Health until 1996,” the firm concluded. The firm also noted that another 38 people reported abuse by an Ohio State doctor, but it could not confirm that the allegations were in reference to Strauss.
Even before Friday’s report, victims have accused more than 20 school officials of being aware of the allegations but doing nothing. Those they accused included two athletic directors and, most notably, influential U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, who was an assistant coach of the wrestling team in the 1980s and ‘90s. Jordan has denied knowledge of the abuse and suggested that some of the victims were politically motivated.
The investigation comes as two major lawsuits against the university are headed to mediation. (Michigan State, where Larry Nassar had worked while abusing female students, agreed to a $500 million settlement with the victims.) The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is also looking into whether Ohio State responded appropriately to the allegations.
Strauss coached at least 16 sports teams and worked at a student health center for a number of years before his suspension. He went on to set up, with the university’s blessing, an off-campus clinic, where he continued to abuse patients, according to the Associated Press. He also pleaded with the university’s president at the time to be given his job back, but when the university declined, he was allowed to retire with emeritus status. The university is now beginning its process of revoking his faculty emeritus status.
“We are so sorry that this happened,” Ohio State President Michael Drake said at a news conference in which he also emphasized that the Ohio State of that period “is not the university of today.” He said the university “fell short of its responsibility to its students, and that’s regrettable and inexcusable.”