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Ohio State faces a summer of allegations, closure of student-support unit

As students enjoyed their summer vacations, the Ohio State administration responded to many headlines this summer. Credit: Lantern File Photo. Courtesy of Ohio State.

When news broke of the alleged sexual abuse by Dr. Richard Strauss in April, there was no indication of the countless stories that would follow.

As students enjoyed their summer vacations, the Ohio State administration responded to headlines beginning with the Strauss allegations, which would come to entangle a prominent politician. Then a unit to help sexual assault survivors was closed, followed by sexual abuse allegations against a former diving club coach. And, finally, the firing of an assistant football coach and uncertainty surrounding head coach Urban Meyer.

Strauss allegations

The story that eventually enveloped the majority of the summer began on April 5 with a press release from the university.

The statement said Ohio State would be conducting an investigation into the allegations against Strauss and provided directions on how to report sexual assault at Ohio State.

On May 3 the university informed the public that the investigation had identified athletes in eight different Ohio State sports who had been allegedly sexually abused by Strauss, but did not identify the number of athletes affected.

From then until July, the Strauss news grew with various wrestlers sharing their stories. It later came to light that Strauss ran a private clinic off-campus to which university athletes were regularly referred.

But in July, the story took another twist.

Five wrestlers alleged that Jim Jordan, a former assistant wrestling coach and now member of the House of Representatives, knew about the alleged abuse.

The allegations about Jordan garnered national headlines as he became a favorite to become the next speaker of the House, with politicians on all levels and both sides of the aisle weighing in, including President Donald Trump.

But as political headlines dominated the national coverage of the story, the investigation into Strauss’ actions continued in the background. Multiple lawsuits were filed against Ohio State, one wrestler sought a settlement, more than 100 alleging assault were interviewed, and the Department of Education announced an investigation on Aug. 16 into how allegations against Strauss were handled by Ohio State

The announcement showed that the story continues to evolve and has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit dissolved

Having had its activities suspended since February amid review, Ohio State announced on June 19 that SCE would be shut down for good.

The report from that review, which Ohio State received on May 28, found SCE had failed to properly document and report information regarding some sexual assault complaints made by students.

In addition, public records showed complaints that outlined a pattern of bullying, preferential treatment and lying by those in leadership positions.

“They’re asking Ohio State, ‘What are you doing to make sure that all your employees, administrators and everyone is aware of exactly what Title IX requires?’” — Matthew Mitten, Professor of Law at Marquette University Law School

In the statement closing SCE, the university announced it had secured the services of a leading law firm to help create an SCE replacement as well as to conduct a top-down review of Ohio State’s compliance with federal laws.

Speaking in general terms to The Lantern, Matthew Mitten, a professor of law and the executive director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University Law School, said Ohio State is likely “reviewing the whole procedure.”

“They’re asking Ohio State, ‘What are you doing to make sure that all your employees, administrators and everyone is aware of exactly what Title IX requires?’” he said.

Mitten said that review of reporting measures and an internal hearing procedure for Title IX violations are likely to be reviewed, and that compliance is extremely important.

“The consequences of not ensuring the university is complying with Title IX is there can be civil litigation,” he said. “Individual students can bring suit against the university and if they can prove intentional discrimination they can recover damages for an intentional violation, they can recover attorney fees and the court can order certain things to ensure compliance with Title IX.”

Ohio State said in a statement an SCE replacement service would be in place before the start of fall semester.

William Bohonyi allegations

In mid-July, more sexual assault allegations involving Ohio State surfaced when a lawsuit filed by a former athlete of the Ohio State Diving Club claimed sexual abuse by former assistant coach William Bohonyi.

The lawsuit outlined an ongoing, inappropriate relationship between Bohonyi and the athlete, who was 17 at the time, that included nude photos and sexual activity.

The lawsuit stated that “In the almost four years that Ohio State University has been in the possession of this child pornography, no action has been taken by Ohio State or the Ohio State Police Department.”

The university responded — via a statement from spokesman Ben Johnson — that Ohio State had alerted authorities in Ohio as well as Maryland, where the sexual activity took place during a meet.

University Police opened an investigation on Aug. 19, 2014, according to the statement, and it “was closed at the request of the complainant.”

“The university’s administrative investigation continued and resulted in Mr. Bohonyi’s termination on Aug. 29, 2014,” the statement read. “The results of the administrative investigation were reported to USA Diving in 2014.”

Little news has come out since the first few days these allegations were made public, during which the head coach of the diving club was placed on leave.

What now?

Official responses from Ohio State came mostly in the way of prepared statements with comments or public interviews from Drake.

As far as the three stories are concerned, conclusive action remains in the future.

The most immediate action to expect is an SCE replacement. As the university stated, it would be in place before the fall semester.

When it comes to Strauss and Bohyoni, however, it is unknown when any sort of conclusive action will be reached. Lawsuits will have to play out and countless athletes will need to be interviewed.

In a statement to The Lantern, Johnson said the university’s first priority will always be student safety.

“What links these issues is that we are constantly reviewing and strengthening our policies and procedures to best live by our values and principles,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, domestic violence and sexual assault are pervasive throughout society and as a university, we are not immune to that. But we are absolutely committed to doing all we can to be part of the solution and make sure everyone in our community feels respected and safe.”

Ohio State endured a tumultuous summer, but it will have the opportunity to be defined by its response to the issues instead of the avalanche of bad news that came.

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