NUMBER OF SEX CRIMES AT OHIO STATE, MICHIGAN STATE “UNPRECEDENTED” DUE TO RICHARD STRAISS, LARRY NASSAR CASES
October 6, 2019
The numbers of sexual assaults included in safety reports released last week by Ohio State University and Michigan State University are unprecedented highs, experts say, thanks to the crimes linked to doctors who preyed on hundreds of students at each school.
Ohio State acknowledged that there have been nearly 1,500 reported instances of sexual abuse tied to Dr. Richard Strauss, who worked as a sports and student health physician at the university from 1978 to 1998. The announcement came as part of Ohio State’s annual campus safety report, due on Oct. 1 of each year under the federal Clery Act.
The numbers in reports by Ohio State and Michigan State, which included reported sexual assaults by Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics and university sports-medicine doctor, are the highest to ever appear in Clery campus safety reports, said S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, which consults with colleges and universities. Carter has monitored campus safety data for nearly three decades.
Ohio State’s 2018 report released last week includes 992 instances of fondling and 30 incidents of rape attributable to Strauss. About 450 additional Strauss incidents contributing to the total of nearly 1,500 will be included in the university’s 2019 safety report, the school said, because crimes are included in reports for the year in which they were reported.
Michigan State’s report included 1,037 rapes and 164 fondling cases reported in 2018, most of them attributable to Nassar.
The high numbers at both universities are a reminder of why Clery safety reports exist — so that there can be more transparency regarding crimes occurring on campus, said Abigail Boyer, associate executive director of the Clery Center, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit group dedicated to helping college and university officials meet the standards of the Clery Act.
“These are not just statistics; they are people who are harmed within our community,” she said.
The staggering numbers released last week mark the first time that Ohio State officials have shared a tally of Strauss-related sexual abuse instances since the university announced an investigation into the doctor in April 2018. Strauss died by suicide in 2005.
“In terms of violent crimes, no institution has ever reported a number this high,” Carter said of the safety reports out of Ohio State and Michigan State. “It is completely unprecedented. But obviously it’s a function of covering potentially decades of reports or incidents,” he said.
The Perkins Coie investigation released in May found that 177 former students were sexually abused by the doctor. But federal law stipulates that Clery Act reporting statistics reflect the number of incidents reported rather than the number of victims.
The nearly 1,500 instances would cover the 177 students who reported firsthand abuse by Strauss, some of whom reported recurring abuse. It also covered some incidents in which students who reported suffering abuse also shared that their teammates had been abused. Reportable incidents mentioned in lawsuits against the university also were included, Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said.
“To help ensure an accurate accounting for Strauss’ abuse, all reportable incidents have been counted, including incidents from the Perkins Coie report and from plaintiffs’ lawsuits, some of which may overlap.” Johnson said in an emailed statement.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Education levied a $4.5 million fine on Michigan State for Clery Act violations, the largest-ever fine issued under the law. The department’s review found that the university failed to properly compile and disclose accurate crime statistics because it did not include the sex crimes that Nassar committed during the years in which the crimes were reported.
Some of the examples the Education Department gave in its Clery review of Michigan State were similar to accounts described in the Perkins Coie investigation into Strauss: instances of survivors telling coaches or trainers that they had been sexually assaulted by the doctor.
Ohio State announced in August 2018 that it was under investigation by the Department of Education over its handling of the sexual abuse allegations involving Strauss. Yet it seems unlikely that Ohio State could face a Clery Act fine similar to Michigan State’s, Carter said.
Even though Clery Act requirements to report campus sexual assaults were in place in the 1990s, at the end of Strauss’ employment, violations of the law “would not be subject to any fine at this point,” Carter said, pointing to a 2015 decision by an Education Department administrative judge and a subsequent 2016 decision by then-Education Secretary John B. King involving Lincoln University. They ruled that Clery Act fines are time-barred by a five-year statute of limitations stipulated in a separate federal law on civil penalties.
A spokeswoman confirmed that the Education Department cannot impose fines for Clery Act violations that occurred more than five years ago, based on the 2016 court decision.
Attorneys representing former students suing Ohio State have estimated that the number of students abused by Strauss is much higher than the 177 the Perkins Coie report identified. Another suit was filed against the university last week, representing 21 more former students, most of whom were athletes in one of at least six sports, including football. That raises the number of lawsuits to at least eight involving nearly 200 plaintiffs.
Attorneys in those cases have said the total number of victims exceeds 300, and some attorneys have alleged in court documents that Strauss could have assaulted 1,500 to 2,500 students at Ohio State.
Mike Avery, a former Ohio State lacrosse player who is a news anchor at WXMI-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the latest former student to come forward alleging sexual abuse by Strauss. Avery told NBC News last week that Strauss sexually assaulted him during a physical exam performed in his sophomore year 30 years ago.
“This is one of the biggest sexual abuse scandals in U.S. history,” New York attorney Ilann M. Maazel, who is representing one group of former Ohio State students along with other attorneys, said in a written statement. “No words can describe the scope, the scale, or the appalling nature of OSU’s failure to protect its own students.”
Ohio State officials have said that the university remains deeply concerned for each person who endured Strauss’ abuse, and that it is actively participating in good faith in mediation as directed by the federal court. Since February, the university also has offered private, professional counseling services for anyone affected by Strauss’ actions.
“For more than a year, Ohio State has led the effort to investigate and expose Strauss’ misdeeds and the systemic failures to respond,” Ohio State President Michael V. Drake said in a written statement Friday. “The independent Perkins Coie investigation was completed because of the strength and courage of survivors, and we’re grateful they were willing to share their experiences.”
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