Abused repeatedly by team doctor Richard Strauss, fed up former wrestler quit the team
It was the early 1990s when a former Ohio State wrestler, “John,” arrived on campus – a dream come true for the young man who grew up in Columbus.
The former student-athlete was one of seven men who spoke recently to the Ohio State Board of Trustees about being sexually abused by Dr. Richard Strauss.
John said the first time he heard about Strauss was when he was chatting with a buddy, waiting in line for his freshman wrestling physical.
“And he says, ‘Hey, the doctor’s going to play with you.’ And I said, ‘I’ve had physicals before,’ and he said, ‘Not like this you haven’t.’ And he was right,” John said. “I was fondled for what felt like five or 10 minutes.”
In addition to speaking to the OSU trustees, John also wrote to an Ohio state senator asking that the legislature extend Ohio’s statute of limitations law, so the Strauss victims’ civil lawsuit can proceed in court.
Criminal cases can be filed up to 25 years after a sexual assault occurs, but civil cases have a 2-year filing deadline.
The letter John wrote to the senator also detailed the repeated abuse he suffered at Strauss’s hands.
For example, John once went to Strauss for strep throat. But instead of checking the lymph nodes in his neck, Strauss checked the lymph nodes in his groin.
“I had to remind him to do the strep test,” John said. “This started a new chapter, where I hid injuries and illnesses. As one teammate put it, the co-pay for medical care was being sexually assaulted. I visited my home physician when I could and went to the health center when I really needed care, but I couldn’t escape physicals, treatment for injuries during practice and visits to approve my return to practice following an injury.”
Strauss sexually assaulted John seven times over three years.
John said, too, that he and other wrestlers complained to their coaches about voyeurism and sexual activity occurring at the Larkins Hall practice facility, which was open to the public.
We routinely reported men engaging in sexual acts in the sauna, showers and locker rooms.
“We asked to be moved out of the facility, to have our area restricted to varsity athletes, to have a new team physician and to have the area policed more carefully. None of these happened.”
John’s letter to the Ohio state senator also said, “Russ Hellickson is on video saying that he was aware of these issues and reported them to his supervisor.”
Hellickson was the head wrestling coach when John was on the team.
In addition, then-athletic director Andy Geiger was informed about the ongoing abuse when two wrestlers complained to him about Strauss showering with the team and giving genital exams on every visit.
We were assured that changes would be made. In the end, nothing happened,” John said.
John, however, was ready for change. He met his wife of 22 years when he was a junior and proposed to her that same school year.
“A week after I proposed to my wife, Dr. Strauss sexually assaulted me,” John said.
Instead of returning to the mat for the Big Ten Championships, I walked out the door and never went back. My dream-turned-nightmare was over.
John later sought counseling to deal with the abuse, guilt, shame and embarrassment caused by Strauss.
“I continue to be concerned with the culture of sexual exploitation at Ohio State, including recent lawsuits against the diving club coach,” John said.
Former OSU diving club coach Will Bohonyi was arrested Nov. 30, 2018. The Columbus Dispatch reported that Bohonyi was charged with three counts of sexual battery and one count of pandering sexually-oriented materials involving a minor.
John is also dismayed at last summer’s closing of the University’s sexual assault center and the subsequent firing of its employees.
The University closed the Sexual Civility and Empowerment office in June 2018, saying employees improperly managed victim’s sexual assault complaints.
“This is yet another example of the problem that exists at the University,” John said.
Most importantly, I’m worried that the message Ohio State has received is that if they can ignore and cover up abuse beyond the statute of limitations, they can continue to escape accountability.
Even so, John is ever-hopeful that a new era is dawning at Ohio State – one that will not only see the University acknowledge past transgressions, but also create a safe campus for current and future students.
Tell the Ohio State Board of Trustees know how you feel about John’s abuse. email: firstname.lastname@example.org