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Standing Up for Survivors at Ohio State

Standing Up for Survivors at Ohio State

For nearly two decades, from 1978 to 1996, Ohio State University physician Richard Strauss examined and treated male students—many of whom were athletes required to see him–and repeatedly sexually abused the students entrusted to his care. Public Justice, along with Scott Elliot Smith, LPA and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, represents more than 60 of those former students, who have come forward to hold Ohio State accountable for ignoring and facilitating the sexual abuse and to ensure the University makes the systemic changes needed to prevent future students from suffering similar abuse. Public Justice is the only legal non-profit representing Ohio State survivors, bringing to the table our vast experience in working with schools to identify and implement critical changes in policy, procedures, training and education.

According to a recently released, Ohio State-commissioned report from the law firm of Perkins Coie, “Despite the persistence, seriousness, and regularity of [student] complaints” about Dr. Strauss’s abuse, which began as early as 1979, “no meaningful action was taken by the University to investigate the concerns until January 1996.” And even then, officials at the highest levels of the University kept Strauss as a tenured faculty member until 1998, gave him an honorary emeritus appointment when he retired that same year, never informed any students about Strauss’ serial predation, and gave Strauss permission to open a private men’s clinic off-campus where he could continue to treat University students and others. The University also allowed Strauss to advertise the men’s clinic to students in its student newspaper, essentially giving Strauss a free pass to molest students off-campus.

The investigation by Perkins Coie concluded that Strauss sexually abused at least 177 of the student-patients interviewed during the investigation, but acknowledges that the number of young men victimized by Strauss may be much higher, given how many students he examined and treated at the University and during his 20-year tenure at Ohio State. The investigation also found that more than 50 athletic department staff members were aware of Strauss’ actions yet did not act to stop him.

“Ohio State wants everyone to believe that the university has changed, but the University is still mishandling sexual assaults and ignoring and mistreating survivors today,” said Adele Kimmel, the Senior Attorney at Public Justice who is counsel on the case. “We are still waiting to hear exactly what the University will do about the lack of oversight and accountability that enabled such widespread sexual abuse on campus. To ensure that no other students experience these survivors’ pain and trauma, Ohio State needs to provide a gold-standard plan detailing what will be fixed, how it will be fixed and by when.”

The legal team and the survivors they represent are calling for Ohio State to take five steps to begin a restorative process for the large number of young men victimized by Dr. Strauss:

  1. Ohio State must release records revealing the total number of male students that Dr. Strauss examined during his time at the University.
  2. Ohio State must encourage all survivors of Dr. Strauss’s abuse to come forward in whatever manner they feel most comfortable, whether anonymously or publicly.
  3. OSU must release the names of all employees of the university – including coaches, assistant coaches, and other employees and administrators – who knew about Strauss’s conduct while it was happening and failed to stop it. The Perkins Coie report states that more than 50 members of the University’s athletic department “corroborated these student accounts.”
  4. Ohio State must release specific information on the other places Dr. Strauss worked and saw patients while employed by the University, so that all survivors are encouraged to come forward, not just former Ohio State students.
  5. Ohio State must put forth by June 15—the date of its first mediation session with the survivors who have come forward—a concrete proposal laying out how it will provide some measure of justice to the survivors, as well as what reforms it has and will put in place to prevent this from happening again.

“It will take much more than an apology for the University to atone for its harm to me and so many other young men abused by Dr. Strauss and ignored by Ohio State. The University must ensure that no one like Strauss will ever be protected in this way again when they harm members of the Ohio State community,” said Steve Snyder-Hill, one of the more than 60 survivors represented by Public Justice and its co-counsel.

For more information: Read coverage of the case in HuffPost. Hear former students speak about their abuse by Dr. Strauss here. Read a redacted version of the Perkins Coie report here. And you can also read our letter written with the National Women’s Law Center and 35 other organizations to Secretary DeVos, which called for the now-opened investigation of sexual abuse at Ohio State University by the Department of Education.