As if the hundreds of male survivors in the sex abuse case against the Ohio State University weren’t up against enough, attorneys for the billion dollar institution filed a brief this week stating that seven major Midwest universities have coalesced behind the university in its ongoing effort to halt the case from ever being tried in a court of law.
On October 3, just one week after Ohio State attorneys submitted an en banc review—a rare legal practice that some survivors believe was an attempt by the institution to thwart their Title IX lawsuits—they filed a brief noting that seven Midwest universities are standing in solidarity with Ohio State. The institutions include: Bowling Green State University, Cleveland State University, Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University, Oakland University, Purdue University, and finally, Ohio State’s rival, the University of Michigan. Notably, in the last three years, two of those universities—University of Michigan and Michigan State—have both made national headlines for their own public reckonings with institutional sex abuse of student athletes.
The night after the filing, Steven Snyder-Hill, the lead plaintiff in the suit and one of the most outspoken survivors of former university physician Richard Strauss’ sexual abuse, sent it to a private Facebook group of fellow survivors. It shocked Rocky Ratliff, an attorney representing one of the other two groups of Strauss survivors and a survivor himself. “I had to get up at 11:15 at night and go to my office to see the filing for myself, because I was like, ‘He’s got to be mistaken,’” Ratliff told Jezebel.
What does it say that two prominent Midwest universities—Big 10 competitors, at that—known for their own sex abuse scandals have come to Ohio State’s defense?
“To me, it says these universities—Michigan State, University of Michigan, and Ohio State—have learned nothing,” Ratliff said. “They are spitting in the face of survivors. You have an institution that allowed Larry Nassar and an institution that allowed Robert Anderson, backing the institution that allowed Richard Strauss. Quite honestly, if you’d like to invite the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church, we’re really having a party.”
The en banc review had already come as yet another surprise to the hundreds of men who’ve sought justice against the university since 2019. That same year, a damning report commissioned and published by the university revealed that Strauss—who died by suicide in 2005—sexually assaulted hundreds of male athletes under the guise of medical treatment between 1978 and 1998. The investigation concluded that during his tenure, he committed at least 1,429 instances of fondling and 47 instances of rape. It also stated that “university personnel had knowledge of complaints and concerns about Strauss’s conduct as early as 1979 but failed to investigate or act meaningfully.”
Because Strauss’ abuse was often enacted during health inspections that were mandatory of student athletes, many of the survivors—including Ratliff—didn’t recognize what happened to them as anything more than an uncomfortable and invasive treatment until the 2019 investigation. In the recent brief, the university disagreed with the Sixth Circuit’s September 2022 decision that legal action can be taken anytime following discovery of the abuse, and instead argued that the survivors should’ve pursued legal action sooner.
“The Sixth Circuit said, ‘Discovery applies,’ meaning when you discovered this [the sex abuse] as an actual injury. Ohio State is saying, when he touched you, you’ve got two years no matter what,” explained Ratliff. “The problem is, in this kind of case, how would you know? You’re being told by the doctor himself, and other members of Ohio State, that that’s a normal exam, right? You don’t even know it was an injury, because they’re saying this is normal.”
“No one knew Ohio State’s involvement until that investigation came out, and nobody knew they had been injured until that investigation confirmed everything,” he continued.
When prompted for comment last week, Ben Johnson, a spokesperson for Ohio State, noted that all survivors have been given the “opportunity to settle,” and that “Ohio State has reached settlement agreements with more than half the plaintiffs, 296 survivors, for more than $60 million.” Meanwhile, Ratliff and Ilann Maazel, another attorney for the survivors, have said that these paled in comparison to the settlements awarded in similar cases of institutional sex abuse: for instance, Nassar and Michigan State University ($500 million), Robert Anderson and the University of Michigan ($490 million), and George Tyndell and the University of Southern California ($852 million).
When contacted by Jezebel, Johnson responded but did not provide a comment from the university regarding the latest brief. Of the seven institutions listed, a singular representative for Purdue sent a statement via email:
Purdue maintains an unwavering commitment to Title IX’s protection of Purdue students against sex-based harassment in educational programs and activities. According to the Department of Education, the goal of Title IX is a secure educational environment for students. Diverting Title IX resources to claims by the general public would dilute this focus and fall outside of Congress’ Title IX mandate. For these reasons, Purdue supports Ohio State and the other amici in this attempt to ensure Title IX jurisprudence in the Sixth Circuit respects these principles and concerns.
Attorneys for the Strauss survivors have until October 18 to respond to the brief. A decision regarding the en banc review has not yet been reached.