US college doctor abused 177 men over 2 decades

His actions were an open secret and continued at his off-campus clinic until his 2005 suicide

NEW YORK • Ohio State University has said that an investigation had confirmed - in voluminous details gleaned from hundreds of interviews - that a team doctor had sexually abused at least 177 men, including many varsity athletes, while working for the university in the 1970s to the 1990s.

The university also revealed that dozens of Ohio State officials, including more than 50 athletics department staff members, were aware of the doctor's actions during his nearly two-decade tenure, yet did not act to stop them.

In a 182-page report issued on Friday, Ohio State detailed how the doctor, Richard Strauss, had groped students, required them to strip unnecessarily during examinations, and asked intimate questions about sexual practices under the guise of providing medical treatment.

"The findings are shocking and painful to comprehend," said Ohio State University president Michael Drake in a statement.

"Our institution's fundamental failure at the time to prevent this abuse was unacceptable."

The university said college personnel knew, as early as 1979, about the accusations against Strauss, who committed suicide in 2005.

In fact, many former students interviewed for the report said they believed Strauss' actions were an "open secret" on campus and among athletes, coaches, trainers and other team physicians.

But again and again, the report made clear, those in a position to take action against Strauss seemed unwilling or unable to intervene. Some of those interviewed, for example, said there was much talk about Strauss' tendency to shower with students, sometimes several times a day, and to loiter in the locker room area.

Two students said that their reports of abuse had been relayed to the higher authorities in the athletics department, including at least two former athletics directors.

But the report also revealed that a "self-described" investigation in 1994 by Ohio State's director of sports medicine, Dr John Lombardo, dismissed accusations against Strauss as "unfounded rumours".

Dr Lombardo, who said he had conducted the investigation after a former fencing coach had raised concerns about Strauss' interactions with fencers, declined to be interviewed by the investigators.

"Despite the persistence, seriousness and regularity of such complaints, no meaningful action was taken by the university to investigate or address the concerns until January 1996," the report said.

That summer, Strauss was first suspended and then removed from his post, but he remained a tenured faculty member. Strauss then opened an off-campus clinic, where he continued to abuse students.

He was still a professor emeritus at the time of his death, though Ohio State said on Friday that it would begin the process of revoking that status.

This is the second time in less than a year that Ohio State's athletics department has faced scrutiny for failing to address its knowledge of abuse more forthrightly.

Last summer, Mr Urban Meyer, then the Buckeyes' football coach, was found to have known for years that one of his assistants, Zach Smith, had been accused of assault by his former wife.

Mr Meyer insisted that he had "always followed proper protocols and procedures" by "elevating the issues to the proper channels," but he was placed on administrative leave during an investigation and suspended for three games for failing to appropriately manage an employee. In December, he announced his retirement.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 19, 2019, with the headline 'US college doctor abused 177 men over 2 decades'. Print Edition | Subscribe