Fingers numb from the mid-30 degree cold and wind, grasping a cell phone in one hand and television microphone in the other, Estee Pryor delivered a speech she had prepared for the Thursday morning rally.
By the end of it, she could barely move her fingers. Shaking hands with the passersby went from normal to a bit of a challenge. But that was fine.
Pryor, who in July came forward with sexual assault allegations against a former Ohio State Diving Club coach, wanted students to hear her story and inspire change at the student level. She said before she delivered her speech, she heard from other survivors who talked with her about traumatic experiences they have kept quiet for years.
“It’s just heartbreaking, but it’s why we’re here, standing in the cold trying to do something,” Pryor said. “We’re not making excuses. We’re trying to do something. Institutions want to make excuses, so we’re going to keep pushing them.”
Joining Pryor at the circle in the South Oval between Mirror Lake and the Ohio Union were Brian Garrett, a former nursing student and accuser of Dr. Richard Strauss, and fourth-year Ella Lewie, president of It’s on Us and sexual assault survivor. The event was hosted by the combined efforts of student organizations OSUMeToo and It’s on Us.
As students walked by, they were offered donuts and T-shirts that read “We support Sexual Assault Victims, So Should Ohio State.” Anyone could have a shirt or donut on one condition: they had to tweet, “Support OSU sexual assault survivors” and tag a state legislator, said Shaye Murray, third-year in public health and survivor support captain of It’s on Us.
A lawsuit filed on July 11, 2018, claimed that former coach William Bohonyi coerced Pryor to engage in sexual acts in July 2014 on campus and during a competition in Maryland when she was only 16 years old. Ohio State was dismissed from the lawsuit in late August.
“The university was pleased to be dismissed from the lawsuit,” Johnson said. “We have always maintained that — fully consistent with our core values of protecting the safety and well-being of those we serve in our community — the university handled this matter appropriately.”
An investigation took place and Bohonyi was fired from Ohio State in August 2014, claiming there was not enough evidence to say he and Pryor had a sexual relationship, but saying the two did have a romantic relationship. Ohio State learned of the allegations and notified Franklin County Children’s Services, Ohio State University Police Division, Maryland law enforcement and USA Diving.
Pryor, 21, said she is now addressing something that should not have to be discussed for someone of her age. She said it is a morality problem, starting with Bohonyi’s abuse and continuing with Ohio State’s inability to properly deal with the situation.
“[Ohio State is] not taking accountability and just acting like humans that care about people,” Pryor said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. It’s kind of pathetic for how amazing Ohio State is in so many other ways, but they lack in this serious issue and it’s disgusting to me.”
In her speech, Pryor encouraged people to write to University President Michael Drake and demand that “sexual assault victims be treated with compassion” and that “sexual assault crimes be reported to Columbus police instead of university police.”
Garrett, who brought forward allegations that Strauss abused him at a private clinic in Columbus in 1996, said this rally gave him the opportunity to meet with Pryor and other younger sexual assault victims who came to speak with them. Few can truly empathize with recovering from sexual assault, Garrett said, adding that he felt like he was able to help give them hope that, “You can survive this. You can still live a healthy life. You will get through this.”
“Even though these young ladies are considered adults, they’re still children at heart,” Garrett said. “There should be no reason that they’re having to stay here and do this, and that’s the fault of the university. The university is the reason why they’re here. In all of these cases, the behaviors of these predators went on for years. They could have been stopped.”
Part of a group of Strauss accusers, Garrett, 45, wants the chance to speak to the university at the full Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 16.
Ben Johnson, a spokesman for the university, said that while they are not aware of a formal request to speak at the board meeting, “the university will continue to provide victims with appropriate opportunities to share their stories.”
Garrett said in his speech to those walking by that he felt Ohio State has mishandled several sexual assault cases, including the Strauss and Bohonyi cases. He wants Ohio State to take more accountability for what happened and to create a safer environment for students.
“Students on Ohio State’s campus, is this how you should be treated?” Garrett asked. “You should not have to worry about an employee at this university doing inappropriate things to you. You should not be ignored when it happens and you should expect that your university when that happens, investigates it immediately in the correct way and utilize law enforcement.”
Both Pryor and Garrett said by speaking directly to the students on campus, it pushes the university to act. Going out and talking to others on campus, sharing the story directly instead of through the media, helps puts a different perspective on everything, Pryor said.
“It’s somebody’s daughter, it’s somebody’s sister, it’s somebody’s relative, it’s somebody’s son,” Pryor said.” The people that are not doing their jobs in this institution, that could have been your son and daughter, you would not be acting the way you are if it happened to you and see young faces.”
Correction made at 9:11 a.m. on Nov. 9: Included information that Ohio State was dismissed from the diving lawsuit in late August. Clarified speech was from Brian Garrett and not Ben Johnson.