Former Ohio State Team Doctor Sexually Abused at Least 177, Report Shows

Marcia Frellick

May 22, 2019

Richard Strauss, MD, sexually abused at least 177 former students at the Ohio State University in Columbus when he was employed as a team physician between 1978 and 1998, according to a report released by the university.

Strauss died in 2005 by suicide at age 67, the Associated Press reports. According to a university press release, the investigation, which began in April of last year and was conducted by an outside firm, found that university personnel knew of complaints about Strauss' conduct as early as 1979 but did not take appropriate action.

The university removed Strauss in 1996 from his role as physician in the Department of Athletics and Student Health Services and reported his actions to the State Medical Board of Ohio that year. But, according to the report, the university did not report his actions to law enforcement. He was allowed to retire in 1998 with emeritus status.

Strauss treated athletes from several varsity sports, worked at the medical center, and treated patients at the student health center.

In August 1996, Strauss went into private practice outside the university, where additional sexual abuse occurred, according to the university.

"The findings Are Shocking and Painful"

University President Michael V. Drake, MD, sent a letter on May 17 to students, faculty, and staff at the time the report of the investigation was released. Additional communications were sent to alumni.

In the letter, Drake writes, "The findings are shocking and painful to comprehend.

"On behalf of the university, we offer our profound regret and sincere apologies to each person who endured Strauss' abuse. 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."

Included in the findings are reports that "students explained that Strauss would routinely touch their genitals at every visit, regardless of the medical ailment presented, including for a sore throat." Strauss was also widely known to have showered regularly with male athletes, the report states.

Board of Trustees Chair Michael J. Gasser wrote in a press release that the university "has been committed to an appropriate response for survivors since allegations were brought to the university's attention in spring 2018.

"The findings of the report have shaken us to our core," Gasser said.

Response, Fallout

Among actions Ohio State has taken are the following:

  • Implementation in 2016 of mandatory sexual misconduct prevention education for incoming students. In 2018, the university expanded this requirement to all students, faculty, and staff.

  • Banning public access to locker-rooms and training facilities, enacting enhanced chaperone policies, and providing student athletes access to multiple physicians.

  • Provision of counseling services to all affected by Strauss.

  • Centralization of the reporting of sexual misconduct by establishing the Office of Institutional Equity.

  • Initiation of the process to revoke Strauss' emeritus status.

Three groups of plaintiffs have sued the university, and Ohio State is actively participating in mediation.

The pattern of abuse and reporting failures has been compared to that regarding Larry Nassar, the former physician at Michigan State University who treated Olympic gymnasts. Nassar was convicted of abusing more than 150 girls and women and is now serving a life sentence.

The university urges anyone who has experienced sexual misconduct at the university to file a report with the Office of Institutional Equity, the university's anonymous reporting service, or the police.

A complete report about the investigation and communications is available online.

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