“Ohio State protected a monster.”
That’s one of the messages being spread by a new group that says its goal is to bring justice for victims of former university physician Richard Strauss and hold Ohio State accountable.
The Ohio State Accountability Project launched its campaign earlier this month, including radio and social media ads, billboards, a petition and survey. Exactly who is behind it remains a mystery — even to survivors of Strauss’ abuse.
An independent investigation conducted by Perkins Coie, LLP, released in May, found that Ohio State failed to stop Strauss from abusing at least 177 students during his career, and a press release accompanying this year’s annual crime report shows that Strauss was responsible for nearly 1,500 instances of sexual assault, including instances of rape and fondling. Strauss died by suicide in 2005.
There have been at least 10 lawsuits filed against Ohio State in relation to Strauss, including three this month.
Ian Prior, the group’s spokesperson, said The Ohio State Accountability Project’s ultimate goal is to make sure something like this never happens again.
“I think the more people that have that awareness and that are educated on it will put enough pressure to put in place the right protocols, the right procedures,” he said.
University spokesperson Ben Johnson said in an email that Ohio State has led the efforts to investigate Strauss and is committed to a fair resolution.
“Ohio State has implemented multiple additional safeguards in the 20 years since Strauss left the university and is committed to appropriately addressing Strauss’ abuse from decades ago,” he said. “Richard Strauss’ actions are reprehensible, and we remain deeply concerned for all those who have been affected by Strauss.”
Brian Garrett, former Ohio State wrestler, survivor and lead plaintiff in one of the Strauss-related suits, said he doesn’t know who is behind the group, and no one from the group has contacted him.
However, he said he’s glad someone has taken up the cause.
“It’s hard for individual victims to get the word out that this has happened. Unfortunately, you need the word out. So the nice thing about the accountability project is it counteracts OSU’s spin and PR machine,” he said.
Prior said the group’s mission is to effect change at the university through a forward-looking approach.
“We don’t want to intrude on the privacy of victims. We want to respect their privacy. And I think that we believe that we can do the job that we need to do by focusing on what the university needs to do,” he said.
The group is supported by “alumni and interested parties,” Prior said, but he said he could not discuss the specifics of who is in the group or how many people are involved.
The group is a limited liability company with nonprofit status incorporated by Cincinnati-area lawyer David Langdon, according to the secretary of state’s website. There have been at least 46 other domestic limited liability companies and nonprofits associated with Langdon or his firm, Langdon Law LLC, according to the website.
One of the organizations, Coalition to Restore American Values, recently sponsored a political ad and website nofauxcasino.com, which shows Sen. Elizabeth Warren photoshopped to wear a Native American headdress and refers to her as “Fauxcahontas.”
In the past, Langdon has represented conservative groups, including a case involving anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, according to court records. The case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Langdon did not respond to multiple phone calls by the time of publication.
Prior said that in addition to the effort to hold Ohio State accountable, the group also seeks to educate the public about Strauss.
In a survey the group conducted of 1,000 Ohio residents, 53.3 percent of respondents had heard about the investigation of Strauss and his abuse. Of those who had heard about Strauss, almost 80 percent thought Ohio State owed victims more than a formal apology, and almost 75 percent thought Ohio State owed the victims financial restitution.
However, nearly 50 percent of those who had heard about Strauss said it did not change their opinion of Ohio State.
“I think people can still have a high opinion of the university overall and all that offers, but not approve of the way that the university has handled this specific incident,” Prior said.
The group has criticized Ohio State’s National Sexual Abuse Task Force for not including any of Strauss’ victims as members.
The task force does not include victims, but “will partner with survivors of sexual abuse to further inform and advance its work,” according to an Oct. 1 release.
Garrett said he agreed with The Ohio State Accountability Project’s stance on the task force.
“You insult us by not putting any victims on the sexual assault task force that were, that are, actually people who have gone through it,” he said. “You know, quote unquote, experts — I think I’m the expert in sexual assault since I’ve been through it.”
Steve Snyder-Hill, former student, survivor and plaintiff in one of the suits, said he hasn’t been contacted by the group either and has mixed feelings about it.
He said he still wants to be proud of where he came from and “bleed scarlet and gray.”
“It’s really hard to see people trashing them, and going after them and doing all these negative things,” he said.
However, Snyder-Hill and Garrett both said they think Ohio State needs to be held accountable.
“The flip side is that the more arrogant they become, and the more that they decide that they’re going to dig in, and just keep ignoring us and keep ignoring this whole thing, and acting like that it isn’t happening around them, and acting like more people aren’t coming forward every single day, it just makes you think, ‘Good,’” Snyder-Hill said. “ I’m glad that they’re doing this because somebody needs to show this institution that they can’t be indifferent to people. They can’t treat us like we’re not human beings, and they really need to be accountable. They owe us that.”