Ohio State University (OSU) has agreed to pay $5.8 million to 23 men who were sexually abused by a school employee. The survivors alleged OSU failed to protect them from Richard Strauss, a team doctor, despite knowing about Strauss’ abuse for decades.
Abusers often use positions of authority or trust to access victims, sexually abuse them, and try to control them. These power dynamics can make it difficult for survivors to recognize their abuse and report it.
In college athletics, team doctors are trusted to provide intimate medical care to athletes. Team doctors often also determine whether athletes can compete, which is essential to the athletes maintaining their scholarships. An abusive team doctor, such as Strauss, can leverage their power over an athlete’s college career. This imbalance of power can keep victims from coming forward about the abuse.
Lawsuits Against OSU
In total, more than 300 victims have sued OSU due to Strauss’ sexual abuse. Survivors cannot sue Strauss directly because he died in 2005. However, they can sue OSU for covering up his abuse.
Multiple Settlements For Abuse Survivors
This is the second time OSU has settled with victims of Strauss. In March 2020, it settled a dozen lawsuits brought by 162 men for $40.9 million. At the time, the settlement resolved about half of the cases against OSU related to Strauss. According to the attorney who led the settlement negotiation, all 162 survivors who were offered the first settlement accepted it.
Between the two settlements, OSU has now paid Strauss’ victims an average of $252,000 per person.
In January 2019, a judge paused litigation and sent the plaintiffs and OSU to mediation.
Successful mediation occurs when independent third parties work with plaintiffs and defendants to settle their cases without further litigation.
In February 2020, several survivors said OSU had not negotiated in good faith and asked for litigation to resume. A judge restarted the litigation in April 2020, shortly after the first settlement was first announced.
Litigation continues in several remaining cases. Some victims of Strauss said they feel the only way to receive justice is to take their case to court.
“We want the truth and we want justice. And the way to get that is to take this to court, put everybody on the stand, let the truth come out so the public can hear it.”
Sexual Abuse By Richard Strauss
Strauss worked at OSU as a team doctor and student health center physician from 1978 to 1998. During his tenure, he was a serial sexual predator. In 2019, a law firm investigated the abuse claims for OSU and identified more than 1,500 incidents of abuse over 18 years.
Strauss often targeted student athletes, including members of the wrestling and football teams. He also abused non-athletes at the campus health center and later at an off-campus clinic.
As they seek justice, survivors have spoken out about how Strauss’ abuse has continued to impact their lives.
“Dreams were broken, relationships with loved ones were damaged, and the harm now carries over to our children as many of us have become so overprotective that it strains the relationship with our kids.”
OSU Covers Up Strauss’ Abuse
The law firm’s report also found roughly 50 OSU employees knew about Strauss’ abuse, some as early as 1979. Yet, they did little to stop it. Even though students reported the abuse, OSU did not investigate him until 1996.
After the 1996 investigation, OSU suspended Strauss as a team doctor and physician at the campus health center. However, he was allowed to remain a tenured faculty member. He also set up an off-campus clinic, where he continued to abuse men.
Despite OSU’s acknowledgment of his abuse, Strauss was allowed to retire in 1997 and received emeritus status, an honorary title for distinguished faculty members.
State Medical Board Investigation
A 2019 working group investigation facilitated by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine found the Ohio State Medical Board knew of Strauss’ abuse. In 1996, the State Medical Board conducted an investigation into Strauss but failed to revoke his license or report him to police.
According to the working group, one medical board attorney had planned to bring a case against Strauss. They did not follow through. The attorney has since died, so it is unknown why they didn’t take further action.
Moving Forward From Abuse
Strauss used his position as an OSU team doctor to access victims and conceal his abuse. When survivors reported him, his prestigious role shielded him from accountability. Strauss’ victims suffered from the school’s lack of action in addition to the abuse itself.
Today, more than 300 survivors of Strauss’ abuse have come forward and shared their truths. Many have brought suits against OSU to hold the school accountable for its repeated failures to stop Strauss. Compensation can’t heal all wounds, but for many, seeking justice and compensation can be a powerful step on the journey to healing.
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(2020, October 13). OSU reaches new settlements in Strauss sexual abuse case. NBC4.