- In a letter to the campus community Friday, Ohio State University President Michael Drake announced the findings of an independent, 12-month investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by a university physician more than two decades ago.
- Investigators claimed that Richard Strauss, who died in 2005, sexually abused at least 177 male students during his employment at Ohio State, from 1978 to 1998, and that university personnel knew about the allegations against him as early as 1979 "but failed to investigate or act meaningfully."
- The university announced the investigation last April and said it will pay for professional counseling for those affected.
Drake put responsibility for the findings of the most recent investigation with the university.
"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," he wrote.
However, he noted that the university has "implemented multiple safeguards" in the time since, including a sexual violence consultation team that reviews sexual misconduct complaints to ensure they receive an adequate response and "mandatory reporting of sexual assault for university employees."
In a 182-page report based on interviews with more than 500 former students, current and former university employees and people outside the institution, the investigators write Strauss "was entrusted with the responsibility of providing care to his student-patients, and from that position, Strauss was able to violate their bodily autonomy and dignity, in a variety of ways." Additionally, they write, complaints about that behavior "were not elevated beyond" the athletics or student health departments until 1996.
At that point, according to the report, the university did "a very limited investigation" of the complaints, which resulted in Strauss' removal from those two departments, though he retained his position as a tenured professor in the public health school. He then proceeded to open an off-campus clinic for men, where the abuse allegedly continued.
Many student-athletes interviewed said they believed Strauss' behavior was an "open secret" within the athletic department, according to the report. Some said they viewed it as a "rite of passage" while others did not want to cause trouble or risk their scholarship or spot on a team. In interviews, more than 50 athletics department staff from that time corroborated the students' accounts.
Ohio State joins other institutions in recent years to face extensive sexual abuse scandals, including the University of Southern California and Michigan State University. In all cases, they have had to respond to accusations that administrators knew of the abuses.
Michigan State is currently doing so in a district court, where its former president faces charges of lying to police over knowledge of abuses by former sports doctor Larry Nassar.
In hiring a third-party to conduct a report, Ohio State may be following the example of Penn State, which commissioned former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky after a grand jury report on the matter dropped. That kind of transparency is critical for institutions to weather a crisis with minimal reputational damage, experts say.