The Ohio State Sexual Abuse Scandal: I Might Have Some Trenchant Ethics Observations On This Horrible Story If I Could Figure Out How The Heck It Could Happen.

I don’t understand this story at all.

Richard Strauss, a now-deceased doctor who worked at Ohio State University, sexually abused at least 177 male student athletes and probably more during his two decades at the institution. Yet the worst consequences he suffered  was a short suspension. When he retired, Ohio State gave him  an honorary title.

Many, many administrators, coaches and students  knew about the ongoing abuse, which included fondling athletes’ genitals, performing sex acts on them and making lewd comments during exams. According to an investigative report released last week, none of them took decisive action. Of the 177 victims, 153 were student athletes or students affiliated with athletic programs at Ohio State, including 48 members of the wrestling program, 16 from gymnastics, 15 from swimming and diving, 13 from soccer, 10 from lacrosse and seven each from hockey, track and field and baseball.

Some students told officials about Strauss, who killed himself in 2005 (GOOD), but the complaints were ignored. The  report on the  investigation,conducted by the Perkins Coie law firm  concludes that Strauss’s abuse was an “open secret” on campus and athletes came to accept it as a form of “hazing.”

I repeat: I do not understand this at all.

The victims were not young women who may have been intimidated by an older male authority figure, as in the case of Larry Nassar at Michigan State University, who excelled at molesting female gymnasts. Strauss’s victims were all young men, and often very large young men—as you can see by the numbers, wrestlers were a favorite target.  The report indicated that his victims were reluctant to come forward, fearing the stigma regarding male sexual assault.

Inside Higher Ed’s experts say that the public often doesn’t take sex abuse allegations by men as seriously as those of women because men are assumed  to be ready to resist, and defend themselves. OK, but NO male athletes resisted or complained sufficiently to stop this perv before his 20 years of distinguished service were up? I don’t get it.  “The power of these stereotypes was particularly strong given the victims were athletes,” says the publication. Again, OK—but stereotypes exist for a reason. I can name at least ten former college athletes I know well who I am quite certain would have broken the arms of any doctor—or anyone—who tried to molest them in an examination. None  of the 177 victims were like them? Had Strauss invented a Submissive-O-Meter?

Christopher Anderson, a trauma expert and member of the Board of Directors of MaleSurvivor, a nonprofit supporting male sex assault victims, said, “There are major differences in the stereotypes and assumptions made about male victims. Among these, perhaps the biggest difference is the perception that any man who was abused must be weak, vulnerable, less of a man. In addition if the perpetrator is male, then toxic prejudice and homophobia can be a major stigma leading many victims to stay silent.”

Yes, yes, I agree. Fine. But a 100% successful record of molesting young male athletes without significant consequences is incredible.

The fact that  athletics staffers and students knew of the abuse and were mostly silent makes the Penn State athletic department’s cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse on campus seem like it was relatively normal. At Ohio State it took nearly 20 years for complaints of Strauss’s abuse to extend beyond the athletic department, sparked by several egregious incidents in the late ’90s.

The report puts the word “investigations” in quotes because two Ohio State  inquiries appear to have been perfunctory at best. After the second investigation in 1996, Strauss was stripped of his duties in athletics and the health center but—Head explosion zone ahead warning!-was allowed to retain his status as a professor until his retirement in 1998, when he was granted an emeritus title. How can this possibly be justified or explained?

I don’t understand.

The university now says it will remove the title. That’s nice. I’m sure the doctor’s corpse will be crushed by the rebuke.

Ohio State never reported Strauss to the state medical board., so after he left the athletic department he continued to abuse the young men who came to his clinic.

In a typical account from a former student reported to investigators, the victim reported that Strauss spent more than five minutes inspecting his genitals, then asked the student out to dinner, a common practice for the doctor,  the investigation found. When the student had another visit—why in the world would he submit to another visit?—Strauss touched him with the intent to try to make him ejaculate. During yet another examination, when the student had a sore throat, Strauss fondled him again, and during  the last  appointment, Strauss performed oral sex on the student and took off his pants, which the student believed was so the student could reciprocate.

The student never reported the behavior, noting that “student athletes were generally expected to be the ‘manliest of men,’” the report states.

Sorry, I don’t find that a credible explanation.

The report states that Strauss showered with players, sometimes for up to 45 minutes at a time, rubbing his genitals. Right. Move along, nothing to see here. Hazing, you know.

“When his behavior was reported, it seemed not to matter,” says Inside Higher Ed. “When another former student injured himself during his sophomore year, the student told another physician treating him about a prolonged examination that involved Strauss touching his genitals. The physician asked the student to repeat the story to the head team physician, and the student told investigators both men looked concerned. But neither seemed to do much with the information. Strauss called the student later that night to check in on his injury but did not bring up the student talking to his colleagues.”

Do I see how Strauss could get away with these crimes with some athletes? Of course. But all of them? I don’t understand.

Experts like Debra Warner, a professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, explains that reports likely took so long to surface because society shames men who are vulnerable. The public, she says, wrongly considers men as hunters, protectors and not those who can be the victims of sexual violence.

That’s feminist political spin, and an endorsement of a cultural rejection of traditional male values. It does not explain the fiasco.

“To say that they have been assaulted and victimized in any way shape or form, they are afraid about what everyone will think about them, that it will impact their future and their survival,” Warner said. That’s funny: if I were being molested by an alleged doctor, I would consider that my survival, and that of my fellow students, depended on doing everything in my power to stop him, and warn them. I cannot believe that my reaction is unique.

The university’s president, Michael V. Drake, issued an apology letter to the campus, writing in part:

“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. This independent investigation was completed because of the strength and courage of survivors. We thank each of them for their willingness to share their experiences.”

At this point, I have more questions than conclusions.

  • It seems impossible that the campus culture that allowed this to continue so long didn’t have other terrible consequences in other areas. What were they?
  • If Ohio State had developed such a sick and toxic culture that someone like Strauss was allowed to thrive, what was unusual about that institution that spawned it?
  • If the answer is nothing, than isn’t it reasonable to assume that other universities are similarly corrupt? Or is the entire university system in the U.S. corrupt?
  • Has our hero-rejecting culture programmed students to avoid conflict and to believe that the duty to warn others and the duty to confront wrongdoers is no longer a cultural imperative?
  • The fact that Ohio State finally investigated the case of an abusive doctor who has been dead for 14 years does not fill me with confidence that the culture on campus that permitted these crimes has some how been reformed and cured. Why would it?
  • This was a multi-lateral ethics breakdown on every front—the perpetrator, the athletic department, the administrators, the students, even the victims. I assume that it will be treated in academia as some kind of weird outlier, with no greater significance except that feminist will use it to tut-tut our society and lecture us that we should encourage men to embrace their vulnerable, feminine side. I do not understand this story, but I also strongly suspect that it provides a clue to how little colleges and universities deserve the trust society places in them.

_______________________________

Sources: NBC, Inside Higher Ed

31 thoughts on “The Ohio State Sexual Abuse Scandal: I Might Have Some Trenchant Ethics Observations On This Horrible Story If I Could Figure Out How The Heck It Could Happen.

  1. Predators are experts in choosing their prey. I’m guessing this guy was extremely selective. Just ten a year. Maybe the guys he selected were gay or leaning that way? This area of the OSU athletic department reminds me of the Catholic clergy. Maybe the administrators and other physicians were themselves gay and were enabling this guy.

    A high school buddy whom I sat behind for four years of high school (alphabetical seating) told me just recently he was propositioned by the Brother who staffed the god awful guitar masses my buddy was dragooned into playing for. And not recently. This occurred when we were SIXTEEN! My buddy didn’t report it to anyone. Not his parents, not other teachers or administrators. If the guy had propositioned me, I sure as hell would have told any number of people. But I think that’s why I was never propositioned by any of the gay Brothers. Again, predators know their prey. As a side note, I’ve always thought there was a good possibility my buddy is gay but leads a tortured life.

    My bottom line is gay coming of age is a fraught process and older guys introducing homosexuality to younger guys is part of the deal. I may be wrong but I just think pederasty is part of the deal. Heterosexuals don’t need anyone to explain to them they are heterosexual. Homosexuality has to be more complicated and often, or perhaps inevitably, needs some adult guidance. Just my theory on how the OSU thing could have happened.

    Jack, that doctor would have steered well clear of you.

    • And your theory, Other, would be one of the thoughts in the minds of all the men (not just the gay ones) when they didn’t react the way you and Jack expect them to. Their theory would be that, no matter what they said or did, the moment it was known, they would all be stigmatized. Permanently. Try again.

  2. If you read the comments section of every online news story involvimg teachers having sex with underage students, you would find that a large proportion of the population would deny Strauss’s victins were hurt.

  3. There are so many points you make in this article that confirm why athletes took no (or little) action against Dr. Strauss that it is difficult to begin. The first that leapt out at me was your statement that “I can name at least ten former college athletes I know well who I am quite certain would have broken the arms of any doctor—or anyone—who tried to molest them in an examination.” You base this on either the physical or social “manliness” that they project and KNOW they project. The likelihood that they would divulge being molested and not breaking the arm of their molester is very low, because this would destroy the persona they have spent a lifetime to build. You can’t and will probably never know if any of them have ever been molested because they will only divulge this to a psychiatrist. Because of your stated position that no manly man would ever allow this, you guarantee that no one will ever report such behavior to you.
    You state that “if I were being molested by an alleged doctor, I would consider that my survival, and that of my fellow students, depended on doing everything in my power to stop him, and warn them”. This is a very big “if” that you will never have to answer and therefore cannot answer, any more than a person who has never had to react to gunfire can positively state how they would react. You are also not speaking for your present self, developed over years of experience, but of your 18 year old self, who was most likely much more susceptible to feelings of shame and the belief that a “real man” would not have allowed this to happen. Studies have shown that, for men, the average time between a sexual assault (or molestation) and reporting the incident is 27 years. It is because of the attitude that you have expressed over and over again that a big, strong athlete would do something that men do not report for 27 years.
    Finally, you asked if Dr. Strauss had invented a “Submissive-O-Meter?” Even there you identified anyone who this happened to as being submissive, lacking the proper manly aggression. No one will come to you to report. But the actual answer is that Yes, predators are able to determine who is vulnerable, and he probably started out with some sort of behavior that could be easily explained as medical, then escalated. Studies of sexual predators have shown that most have hundreds of victims.
    There are many shocking aspects to this story, and there was sufficient reporting over the years to have addressed this long ago. That is what should be addressed. But questioning the manliness of the victims, as you do many times, is the exact reason the young men do not report.

  4. https://www.telegram.com/news/20180824/amid-sex-abuse-allegations-organist-james-david-christie-leaves-holy-cross

    This guy got away with abuse of male students for decades. I knew him, and just brushed off his dirty humor (while rehearsing the chapel choir, no less) as stupid. Others, not so much. Another not-so-closeted creep named Joseph Maguire rose to be Dean and lived by himself in one of the dorms, where, despite being as wide as he was tall and the spherical, he preyed on young men, trying to catch glimpses between showers, inviting them to study or stay, and giving them underwear and asking them to model it. He had apparently wanted to be a priest, but “it was not to be” and no one asked why. He’s dead now, and nothing ever happened to him in life, because no one dared say a word. There’s still a chair in his memory.

    The darkest part of the dark side of HC was the invisible, and at the time I believed, impossible, underground rape culture, where the jocks and rich guys had the run of the female students. I found out many years later that a football player who wrested a coed away from a conversation with me, saying he needed to rescue her from that geek, raped her two weeks later. Nothing happened. My dad says that the people who were jerks in grade school and high school and college grew out of it and are probably now Scout leaders and deacons. I disagree. Character isn’t built, it’s revealed, and anyone who would claim to protect a woman from a boring conversation only to rape her is not and never will be an ok person.

    • Predators go where victims are, especially if they can be put in a position of authority over their prey. That’s why they flock to teaching, coaching, scout leading, ministering and volunteering at organizations that are desperate for enthusiastic helpers. They seem like a godsend to those around them, but they use their position to target vulnerable people.

      Those folks you mentioned didn’t suddenly find themselves in charge and realize, “Wow! I can do pretty much whatever I want!”. They sought out those jobs (Oh, darn! That guy found he wasn’t meant to be a priest – thank God!) so they would have victims.

      And their victims brush off odd encounters (medical professionals are very good at masking abuse as part of an examination) until they can’t do that anymore, then they are intimidated by the power held by the abuser over their place on the team, their health, their spiritual life…

      I think you’re absolutely right.

  5. Over the last 10-20 years, I would guess there probably have been 1,000 times more sex scandals involving school staff, whether in K-12 or universities, vs. the Catholic Church. Yet, if you went by media and popular culture, you wouldn’t know it.

    After the priest abuses were uncovered, lots of people blamed the Vatican, and to this day “Catholic priest” automatically has a negative connotation — CHILD MOLESTER!!!! — in many circles. People rightfully took a close look at the entire institution.

    So why don’t teachers/schools get the same treatment? We keep sending our kids to these places without questioning whether there’s a systemic issue with covering up abuses, as pointed out in this article.

    In other words, I won’t hold my breath waiting for an op-ed from a leftist MSM publication calling for a top-to-bottom review of our school system, and whether we’re entrusting administrators with far too much power.

  6. I regularly criticize feminism, but isn’t the feminist explanation given, the only one that makes sense? What else would cause these boys (18-22 year olds) to not speak up?

    • They’re gay?

      Are we really supposed to be surprised to find out that a certain percentage of athletes are gay? Who says all jocks are manly, manly men? Isn’t that stereotyping? Bruce Jenner ring a bell? I think the idea that jock guys are shamed into silence by being abused is silly and trite. Again, it’s stereotyping. And besides, how many guys that go overboard on the manly, manly man thing are in fact hiding their homosexuality? Rock Hudon ring a bell? A fair number , I’d guess. How many rabid anti-homosexual advocates are closeted gay guys? Too many.

    • I have a working theory. Reading Jack’s essay, it seems like the festering corpse’s behavior was reported multiple times, and every time the investigation was shut down. Indeed, “everybody knew” even before there were investigations. If everybody around you is tolerating criminal behavior, it’s very difficult to act against it. This effect can only worsen if a victim speaks to a coach and finds that previous reports never went anywhere. It would worsen still more if the previous whistleblowers had been ridiculed. A futile fight with nothing but ostracization to show for it may not be a prudent one. The solution for the college is the same as the solution for the Church: hunt the enablers down to the man – even to the deepest, most forgotten jungles of Africa. That these aren’t the proposed solutions is evidence that the people proposing solutions are the same ones who’d be subject to the hunt.

      A man should be more afraid to turn a blind eye to such abuses than to correctly cite the results of racial IQ disparity studies. We could build such a world. How great a society would it be in which mob justice were actually just?

      What’s that? Am I openly suggesting that the people I described should be dealt with by vigilantism because the people tasked with producing and executing the processes by which the crimes are meant to be thwarted are directly responsible for the crimes – voiding part-wise the social contract by which our agency for personal defense is outsourced to their authority? Not openly! That’d be crazy. I only strongly imply those sorts of things.

      • Good implications. Hard to do without taking those to task at the time of their enabling or wrongdoing. These aren’t victims who are suddenly going to pop up and say “me, too” ten or fifty years later. In my experience, if you’re a student, forget it. The administration can outwait you. Worse, those who don’t want to hear it, are embarrassed by it, or are guilty of it will do whatever they can to see you gone before you were planning to go. And If you turn around and bite the hand that handed you the degree, you’re a coward and an ingrate. If on faculty or staff, the situation is more complicated by standing, power and tenure. Unless you have others who will stand by you. And still: On the way to my first nursing degree, out of a class of 35, we got three of us to make a well researched, provable, formal complaint about an incompetent faculty member to the Dean of the Nursing School, a semi-independent part of the college. We were listened to, questioned with great scepticism, and told it would be taken under advisement. Nothing was done before the end of school. I ran into one of the three some years later: He had gone back after graduating and questioned the Dean about why that teacher was still in place … and been shouted out of the office. He then went to the Dean of the College and was told two things (one we already knew) that would be denied if repeated: Viet Nam vet. Today, he could have added the words “she was” and had the feminists down on him as well as the teachers’ union. They kept her on, teaching what she’d picked up from gossip magazines and the Old Testament (all she ever read), and what her mother had warned her about, unable to understand a word of the textbooks or the clinical instructors, until she was picked up by a large corporation to (??) head up their Security Team (second-hand info). I always wished we had done more, especially that we had not left the proof – on audio cassette – in the Dean’s hand. How naive can you get? Not as terrible as having my genitals pawed, you say? Next time you get a nurse who tells you your doctors don’t know shit and offers you his or her phone number to check in after you’re discharged and they’ll “get you the skinny,” beware.

        • Oooh, this definitely has legs. I think our combined angst toward academia has produced the explanation Jack was looking for.

          • Those at Universities have a vested interest in not rocking the boat: they make a VERY comfortable living in exchange for not much effort. (Yes, some work hard: my experience is that many do not, and many exist in made up positions created simply because there is money to be spent, favors to be paid, and virtue to be signalled, all of which continue to make more money)

            This is human nature: how many of us would threaten such a wealthy existence, when the circumstances of our loss of that situation might mean we could never get one like it again? I understand, if not excuse, that character flaw. Ethics are no longer taught, and those who practice them professionally have been mostly spit out of the system, as character, morals, and justice have been taken advantage of in the raw pursuit of naked power. The cycle continues, with the most ruthless climbing over the bodies of those they destroyed.

            If one is progressive, you KNOW you will be judged as you have judged others, and you live life on a tightrope at all times, always calculating how something can go sideways and make YOU the target of your so-called friends, who would gleefully rape and murder you (figuratively, if not literally) if they themselves are spared in the process. Ask Wil Wheaton about that!

  7. In addition if the perpetrator is male, then toxic prejudice and homophobia can be a major stigma leading many victims to stay silent.”

    Yes, yes, I agree. Fine. But a 100% successful record of molesting young male athletes without significant consequences is incredible.

    I find it shocking, but not as incredible. We have to keep in mind WHEN this happened. If he retired after 20 years in ’98, he started in ’78 an there was still a larger stigma about appearing gay, or even attractive to gays. (The era of Soap) Only the last few years of his tenure came during the reviled ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ period. I doubt these kids would have heard of or believed they wouldn’t have been outed if they reported anything. Cherry picking takes care of the rest, and he would be very good at choosing and pressuring them after a time. Serial criminals often seem to have the most astounding luck..

  8. It seems impossible that the campus culture that allowed this to continue so long didn’t have other terrible consequences in other areas. What were they?

    Suppression of free speech, prosecution of males for rape without due process, liberal progressive indoctrination, the loss of critical thinking, much less the teaching of it…

    If Ohio State had developed such a sick and toxic culture that someone like Strauss was allowed to thrive, what was unusual about that institution that spawned it?

    Nothing.

    If the answer is nothing, than isn’t it reasonable to assume that other universities are similarly corrupt? Or is the entire university system in the U.S. corrupt?

    The system IS corrupt, with individual schools being more or less so. Here is a rule of thumb: as the student bodies protest and try to take over the schools, preventing speakers on campus, and so on… the more corrupt the school is.

    Has our hero-rejecting culture programmed students to avoid conflict and to believe that the duty to warn others and the duty to confront wrongdoers is no longer a cultural imperative?

    Yes. The erosion of absolutes will always end this way.

    The fact that Ohio State finally investigated the case of an abusive doctor who has been dead for 14 years does not fill me with confidence that the culture on campus that permitted these crimes has some how been reformed and cured. Why would it?

    It has not: they simply wanted to clear a liability when the opportunity presented itself. Colleges are all about the money these days. Education is not even an afterthought.

    This was a multi-lateral ethics breakdown on every front…

    Indeed.

  9. I work on the staff side of higher education and I think there are endemic issues that lead to these types of scandals as schools.

    Ethics alarms are muted or silent at the upper echelons of leadership in higher education. I once had a former president of the school tell me their top priority was to do whatever it takes to keep any and all bad news about the school out of the media. This led to a culture of secrecy and cover-ups.

    Faculty are often treated like divas and often given King’s Passes. Talking to others in my line of work across the country, this is pretty universal across higher education. And faculty often circle the wagons; we jokingly call them the union without any dues.

  10. In addition to shame, a practical reason to shut up is fear of losing your scholarship or place on the team. If the doctor threatens your position on the team, you could be forced out of the university.

    • Same explanation for why Harvey Weinstein and mots sexual harassers go on for years, decades. Ultimately, however, its a selfish and unethical decision. Allowing others to be abused to avoid your own consequences of doing the right thing. This is an epic example of what that kind of calculation produces.

      • That’s a lot to ask of scared 18 year-olds who were molested or raped. This wasn’t the casting couch Jack. And, for many of them, this might have been their first sexual experience. Terrifying. And you fear for your reputation and your scholarship if you report? I’m a little shocked that you don’t see this side of it. This is NO different than the female athletes who were molested by the MSU doctor. It’s not about size or physical strength, it’s about feeling powerless.

        • You have to concede that size and strength is a material factor. Come on. Submission to authority is also a factor. The victims are victims and individually blameless. Agreed. Collectively, however, there was a failure.

          • Just a thought. We don’t know how many did complain over the years, nor what happened to them if they kept it going.

            • Good point Penn. And to Jack, physical strength comes into play in other types of assaults, not those where the perpetrator has agency over you.

  11. I have no doubt that similar occurrences have/are taking place across the country where the local college has become deified. We live in the shadow of the prestigious and all-powerful OSU, where every media outlet and most business pander and cater to the school’s personality cult, specifically, it’s sports (football) program. To announce to people that you’re not a buckeye fan – and in fact can’t stand the constant glorification and genuflecting afforded to them, makes people think you’re some kind of leper running loose.

    I think people and institutions continue to get away with these types of behaviors, at least in part, due to the amount of indoctrination that goes into the grooming of the athletes wanting to get into these programs. So many kids are told that athletics, especially at someplace as esteemed as OSU, is the golden ticket to fame and fortune, which for a very few, may be true, at least for a little while. Spend years telling a kid from early childhood through high school that making it onto the college football team is the path for success beyond imagination and the opportunities for abuse increase because complaining may get you kicked out of the program.

  12. I don’t see why this is so confusing. Student athletes are pretty much slaves to the athletic program. Look at the ILRB investigation of Northwestern’s football team that resulted in them becoming employees. Athletes have to have their living arrangements approved by the coaches. The coaches tell them what to major in and what classes they will take. They work them outrageous hours. If you cross the coaches, you are done. No scholarship, kicked out of school with no education, and no hope of making it to the pros.
    I have seen athletes practice and compete against doctor’s orders. I have had athletes refuse to go to a doctor despite a concussion and memory loss because the coach told them not to. I have had athletes tell me they had to endure the coach’s children looking at them naked in the locker room. I have had athletes tell me the coaches ordered them to change their major. My complaints did nothing. The students would not state any of it on the record and would not let me use their names.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.