COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Former students alleging sexual abuse by a former Ohio State University team doctor appealed in person to the school’s trustees for the first time Friday, pleading with them not to dismiss or minimize their allegations.
Seven accusers of Dr. Richard Strauss told the board that the now-dead physician’s actions have caused them long-term harm. They described the incidents occurring during team physicals, while being treated for injuries and during routine medical exams at the student health center.
Ohio State President Michael Drake told the men, three of whom spoke anonymously, that their stories were being heard and respected.
“We know that it takes great courage, great courage, to come forward in circumstances like these,” he said. “We are all fathers, sons, sisters, husbands, mothers, wives. We are here to listen to you today, and to hear you.”
But ex-student Steve Snyder-Hill, who complained about Strauss after an invasive 1995 exam of his genitals and rectum and inappropriate questions about Snyder-Hill’s sex life, said it doesn’t feel that way.
“Twenty-three years later, the university remains dismissive of us,” he said. “They’re using language like we’re trying to find out what ‘may’ have happened and who ‘may’ have known. I can’t tell you how traumatizing that is for us, to invalidate us by using that language.”
Accusers told trustees that the board and university officials have at times seemed to be trying to throw doubt on their stories, despite the abundance and consistency of allegations.
Strauss killed himself in 2005. A law firm investigating abuse claims says about 150 former students have given firsthand accounts of Strauss’ sexual misconduct between 1979 and 1997. Strauss’ relatives, who are cooperating with investigators, have expressed shock at the allegations first raised in April.
One ex-student, identified as John Doe, said he believed for decades that he was Strauss’ only victim.
“I realize that all those years I have incubated the trauma. Many of my life’s decisions have been made with the heavy burden of this memory…,” he said, noting he “ran” from Ohio State as soon as he graduated. “My life would have taken a completely different path, a path that would have been my choice. So the board must realize that the damage has been corrosive. It has burned its way through our lives.”
Another anonymous presenter, a one-time Ohio State wrestler, told trustees he dropped out of a promising future in the sport that he loved after being traumatized and humiliated by what Strauss was doing to him during exams. He said he made the decision to leave wrestling shortly after getting engaged.
“I don’t know what I could have accomplished in those last two years,” the man said, fighting back tears. “Like some of my fellow survivors, I still wake up with a start every now and then seeing Dr. Strauss’ face. It just, it wasn’t what was supposed to happen.”
Ex-student Brian Garrett, who organized Friday’s appearances, told trustees they have the power “to own the responsibility for what happened to us. By using this power, it’ll allow us to start the process of healing and start to move forward.”
In a case update delivered to university officials Thursday, investigators said many potential witnesses have left the university, left the state or died. However, they said many current university employees are cooperating.