Former Ohio State University physician Richard Strauss performed “inappropriate genital exams on male students for years,” a 1996 State Medical Board investigation concluded, but no one with knowledge of the case worked to revoke his license or notify authorities.
A working group looking into the 1996 investigation noted an “astounding failure” of university leaders to initiate a medical board or criminal investigation into Strauss.
The revelation prompted Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday to call on the State Medical Board of Ohio to review sexual assault allegations against licensed medical personnel that were investigated and closed without action during the past quarter-century.
“I have deep concerns that there could be other cases similar to this one – cases where there was clear evidence of criminal misconduct, but that evidence was ignored,” DeWine said in a statement. “The examination of these cases will be a major undertaking, but it’s the right thing to do. We cannot risk that there are other sexual assault cases that were mishandled and other predator physicians still practicing medicine.”
The medical board launched its inquiry in July 1996 after an investigator discovered the university suspended Strauss’ authority to see patients. While the investigation wrapped in December 1996, and notes from February 1997 indicate a medical board attorney planned to proceed with the case, no action was taken until the matter was closed in 2002.
Strauss resigned from Ohio State’s medical staff on Dec. 31, 1994, and retired from the school on July 1, 1998, as a professor emeritus. He committed suicide in 2005.
In May, DeWine formed the working group to study the 1996 investigation following a separate review commissioned by Ohio State. The school concluded Strauss sexually assaulted at least 177 male students while working as a doctor in Ohio State’s athletic department or in the student health center from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s.
“For reasons that simply cannot be determined from the files still available or known or recalled by anyone interviewed by this working group, the investigation fell into what one former employee called a ‘black hole,’” the working group said in its report. “Nothing from the individuals interviewed or from the investigation records indicates that the medical board staff involved law enforcement.”
In 1996, medical board investigators identified physicians who may have failed to report Strauss. However, the board did not pursue action against those physicians for allegedly disregarding their legal obligation to inform the board or law enforcement.
DeWine requested the medical board identify medical license holders who either knew about or suspected Strauss’ criminal misconduct and investigate whether there were actionable failures to report.
The working group found the medical board has “already made significant strides in addressing physician sexual impropriety before Strauss’ sexual abuse became public.” The group issued a series of recommendations, including improving partnerships with law enforcement and incorporating trauma-informed practices into investigations of sexual misconduct.
The working group also recommended the board examine other cases where action was pursued against an offending physician but not against physicians who did not report inappropriate behavior.