Education Secretary Betsy DeVos smiles during a swearing-in ceremony in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House on Feb. 7, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Two victims of former Ohio State physician Richard Strauss wrote a letter to United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking her to investigate Ohio State — but not for a Strauss-related reason. 

Mike Avery and Trent Petrie asked the Department of Education to conduct a Clery Act investigation into the university’s closed Sexual Civility and Empowerment Unit — a former center for survivors of sexual violence — which shut down in 2018. An audit conducted by law firm Margolis Healy released in July found that the office failed to report 57 potential felonies to law enforcement since its 2015 establishment, according to previous Lantern reporting. 

Among those cases, six were never appropriately documented under the Clery Act, which requires federally funded universities to release campus crime statistics each year, university spokesperson Chris Davey said in a previous email. Avery and Petrie wrote that the university should be protecting its current students in light of the Strauss situation.  

“As victims of Richard Strauss’ abuse and Ohio State’s willful ignorance of that abuse, we are committed to making sure that what happened to us does not continue to happen to students,” the letter reads. “It is for that reason that we are asking the Department of Education to initiate a Clery Act investigation into Ohio State’s ongoing failure to put in place protections to prevent the next generation of Buckeyes from sharing our plight.” 

Strauss was a team doctor for 17 men’s varsity sports and physician at the Ohio State Student Wellness Center from 1978 to ’98, during which he abused at least 177 students and student-athletes, according to a report released in May following an investigation conducted by Perkins Coie, LLP. The investigation also found that Ohio State failed to act on Strauss’ abuse at the time.  

Ohio State’s latest count, according to a university press release, includes nearly 1,500 instances of Strauss-related abuse. At least fourteen Strauss-related lawsuits have been filed against the university. 

Strauss died by suicide in 2005.

University spokesperson Ben Johnson said in an email that SCE was “part of an extensive system of programs, policies, procedures and resources that the university maintains and is always improving,” and the system as a whole addresses the problem.

“When made aware of issues at the Sexual Civility and Empowerment (SCE) unit, Ohio State acted decisively, launched a complete review, closed the unit, and made staff and operational changes,” Johnson said. 

A spokesperson from the Department of Education said in an email that it does not comment on which institutions have open Clery Act investigations.

Avery and Petrie wrote that they believe the actions of SCE “represent a continuing failure to comply with the law.” The letter was also sent to Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown and U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge. 

The letter also cites the increasing number of rapes on campus.

According to the university’s annual security report, the number of rapes has increased from 56 in 2016 and 72 in 2017 to 93 in 2018. 

“That is unacceptable, especially given Ohio State’s dark history with looking the other way while its students are sexually abused,” the letter states. 

The letter includes complaints made about the office during its three-year existence included in previous Lantern reporting, which alleges that SCE staff members told victims they were “lying,” “delusional” or “didn’t understand their own experience.”

Ohio State is still under investigation by the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights — which oversees Title IX enforcement — into whether Ohio State is responding promptly to reports made by former students, including sexual misconduct allegations made against Strauss and the university allowing the abuse to continue. The university announced the investigation in an August 2018 statement.