Perkins Coie team updates trustees on Strauss investigation
The Ohio State University Board of Trustees received an update today on the independent investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against Dr. Richard Strauss, a physician employed by the university from the mid-1970s to the 1990s. Strauss died in 2005.
In a meeting of the board’s Audit and Compliance Committee, Perkins Coie LLP investigators Markus Funk and Caryn Trombino reported on the status of the investigation announced by the university in April.
To date, the Perkins Coie team has conducted more than 440 interviews with former Ohio State students and staff and reviewed over 34,000 documents obtained from University Archives and outside sources. Of those interviewed, approximately 150 former students have provided firsthand accounts of sexual misconduct committed by Strauss in the context of medical exams.
Funk shared that while Perkins Coie is not at a point where they can provide detailed findings in the investigation, an observation from interviews to this point is that the firsthand accounts of sexual misconduct have been consistent, including in the descriptions of the type of misconduct that occurred.
The misconduct accounts date from 1979 to 1997, and were reported by former students engaged in university athletics, including varsity men student-athletes, and from former patients of Student Health Services. In August 1996, Strauss established a private medical office in Columbus unaffiliated with the university where individuals have reported that additional acts of sexual misconduct occurred.
Perkins Coie is also investigating reports of a sexually exploitative atmosphere in Larkins Hall, the university gymnasium and natatorium that was demolished in 2005.
“We have engaged in regular communication with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office to keep the office apprised of the information we have learned over the course of the investigation,” Funk said.
Perkins Coie was retained to conduct the investigation by Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, the firm appointed by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office as special counsel to the university in connection with the Strauss case. Ohio State and Porter Wright, moreover, are also jointly working to obtain Strauss’ State Medical Board of Ohio file, which is believed to be relevant to the investigation.
The team has also made significant progress on the portion of the investigation focused on what the university knew about misconduct allegations against Strauss, which has included interviews with individuals who worked at Ohio State during the relevant time period.
Funk told trustees that while his team cannot legally compel former employees to share what they know, the team remains hopeful that any former employees who have declined to participate in the investigation reconsider doing so, as their cooperation is essential to the fact-finding process.
While the team has acted on investigative leads to proactively solicit interviews from former Ohio State employees, Funk explained to the board why Perkins Coie adopted a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to obtaining information for the investigation from survivors of sexual misconduct committed by Strauss.
The fundamental guiding principle in trauma-informed methodology is to respect the survivor’s autonomy and control, Funk said. Accordingly, and consistent with prevailing national best practices and their own extensive expertise working with survivors of sex abuse, Funk and Trombino have balanced the investigative need to identify survivors with an outreach approach designed to minimize, to the extent possible, retraumatizing survivors of abuse.
Ohio State has assisted in this outreach by broadly communicating about the investigation, contacting more than 115,000 alumni and former student-athletes, and reaching an additional 147,000 people through university-wide notifications. A university website houses information about the ongoing investigation, including resources for people who have experienced sexual misconduct.
“In keeping with our prior experience interacting with abuse survivors, both in the government and investigations of this nature, this case has only reaffirmed for us that the most ethical approach is to respect the autonomy of the survivors in choosing to come forward voluntarily,” Funk said.
Instead of pressuring survivors to speak with the team, the team is respecting each individual’s decision to determine whether, when and how to interact with the investigators, he added.
While the team is nearing the end of its investigation, Funk and Trombino continue to invite anyone with additional information about Strauss’ conduct to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ohio State will continue to provide updates on the independent investigation and, upon completion, will report the outcome.