Ohio State latest Big 10 school hit by multiple sexual abuse scandals

A sexual abuse scandal unfolding at Ohio State, where former physician Richard Strauss, is accused of sexually molesting at least 177 athletes, is drawing parallels with similar recent abuse scandals at other Big Ten member schools.

In the past decade, both Michigan State and Penn State faced allegations that university officials turned a blind eye toward abuse. In 2018  Dr. Larry Nassar, a physician attached to the school's gymnastics teams was convicted of abusing dozens of female gymnasts.  At Penn State, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually molesting 10 boys.

Ohio State recently released the findings of an investigation conducted by Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie. The report alleges that Strauss, who committed suicide in 2005, sexually abused as many as 177 male students while assigned to the university’s wrestling program. Strauss worked at Ohio State as a university physician assigned to the wrestling program from 1978 to 1998.

More than a dozen coaches in the school’s athletic program were aware of allegations surrounding Strauss as early 1979, according to the report.  But complaints weren’t relayed outside the athletics department until 1996. At that time, Strauss was stripped of his duties but retained his professorship tenure until his retirement in 1998.

Representatives of the university claim that the school's administration acted in good faith in regards to the allegations surrounding Strauss.

Ohio State’s Sexual Civility and Empowerment Unit failed to report nearly 60 potential felonies between 2015 and 2018, eventually closing due to complaints of victim shaming and bullying of students alleging sexual assault. Meanwhile, during that time rapes on the Ohio State campus have gone up every year (26 in 2015, 57 in 2016, 71 in 2017, and 93 in 2018). 

“When made aware of issues at the Sexual Civility and Empowerment (SCE) unit, Ohio State acted decisively, launched a complete review, closed the unit, and made staff and operational changes.”   Benjamin Johnson, director of Public Relations at the university, told the Higher Education Tribune in a statement.  “SCE was a part of an extensive system of programs, policies, procedures, and resources that the university maintains and is always improving. Taken together, this system addresses the problem of sexual misconduct.”

A lawyer representing the university in regard to the Strauss probe declined to comment when reached by the Tribune.

Strauss would later open an off-campus clinic in 1997 where he continued to see Ohio State students. The university does not deny it failed to report the allegations against Strauss to law enforcement or the state medical board.

The university is facing at least two outstanding lawsuits related to Strauss. Ohio State wants to do the right thing, Johnson said, while moving to resolve any claims related to the abuse at the hands of Strauss.

“The university is actively participating in good faith in the mediation process directed by the federal court," Johnson said. "In addition, since February, Ohio State has been covering the cost of professionally certified counseling services and treatment for anyone affected, as well as reimbursing costs for counseling already received.

“Ohio State has implemented multiple additional safeguards in the 20 years since Strauss left the university and is committed to appropriately addressing Strauss’ abuse from decades ago. Richard Strauss’ actions are reprehensible, and we remain deeply concerned for all those who have been affected by Strauss.”


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