The University of Michigan is investigating alleged abuse by former university physician Robert E. Anderson. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Decades-long tenures. Access to athletes. Unnecessary medical exams. 

These are just a few of the similarities between former Ohio State physician Richard Strauss — who was found to have abused at least 177 student-athletes during his time at the university — and former University of Michigan physician Robert E. Anderson.  

Michigan announced Wednesday that it is investigating Anderson for sexual misconduct allegations during his 35-year tenure and asking any patients of Anderson to call a hotline as part of an independent review, according to a Michigan press release. As the initial similarities between Michigan and Ohio State’s sexual abuse scandals unfold amid a nationwide history of other institutional abuses, one expert said power and access are key factors in these situations, and it’s not uncommon for victims to wait to report the abuse. 

Anderson worked at Michigan from 1968 until his 2003 retirement as director of University Health Service — Michigan’s health and wellness campus resource — and athletic team physician at Michigan. He died in 2008. 

“The allegations that were reported are disturbing and very serious,” Michigan President Mark Schlissel said in the release. “We promptly began a police investigation and cooperated fully with the prosecutor’s office. As part of our commitment to understanding what happened and inform any changes we might need to make, we now are taking the next step to reach out to determine who else might be affected or have additional information to share. Every person in our community should expect to feel safe and supported.”

Similar to Anderson, Strauss was team doctor for 17 men’s varsity sports and physician at the Ohio State Student Wellness Center from 1978 to ’98, during which time 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 17 Strauss-related lawsuits have been filed against the university. 

Strauss died by suicide in 2005 — three years before Anderson’s death. 

The news out of Michigan didn’t surprise Strauss survivor Dan Ritchie. 

“You have young adults who are, honestly, in the prime of their life. They’re in great shape and they have people checking their bodies out repeatedly, and so no, that kind of situation doesn’t surprise me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other places had incidences come up like this,” Ritchie said. “I just hope that they handle the situation a lot better than Ohio State’s handling this one. I hope they look after their athletes a lot better than Ohio State did.”

University spokesperson Ben Johnson previously said in an email that Ohio State has led the effort to investigate the abuse, and since February 2019, the university has offered to cover the cost of current counseling services for victims and their families and to reimburse for previous counseling services. He said there is no limit to the coverage of counseling.

“We express our deep regret and apologies to all who experienced Strauss’ abuse, we are actively participating in good faith in the mediation process directed by the federal court and remain actively committed to a fair resolution, including a monetary resolution,” Johnson said in the email.

Elizabeth L. Jeglic, a professor of psychology and sexual violence prevention researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, has an idea about why situations like those of Strauss and Anderson occur at institutions of higher education and why many survivors often wait to come forward.

These situations are similar to instances of sexual abuse within the Boy Scouts of America and Catholic Church, she said. 

“Largely because it gives these predators access to large bodies of individuals that they can abuse, like similarly, we were having with the Boy Scouts,” Jeglic said. “Any time that people can have access, that is when abuse can happen.” 

Jeglic said that once abusers have positions of power within the institutions  — such as being a doctor with no one else in the room — they can operate “unquestioned and unchecked.”   

Although the extent of Anderson’s alleged abuse and whether the university was aware of it is still unknown, the university police investigation began in 2018 after a former student-athlete wrote to the athletic director detailing abuse during medical exams in the 1970s, according to Michigan’s release. 

According to the release, dozens of interviews revealed that former patients experienced sexual misconduct and unnecessary medical exams, most of them occurring in the ’70s and one as late as the 2002. As of Thursday, five former patients have recently reported the misconduct, Schlissel said at a Board of Regents meeting. 

Jeglic said it is not uncommon for victims to wait to report abuse, with a large factor being shame. 

In a historical context, Jeglic said it could be that at the time of the abuse, people didn’t believe men could be sexually abused or if they came forward, they could be seen as homosexual. 

Jeglic also said that coming forward also might sacrifice privacy. 

“I think also going through public scrutiny after reporting the abuse is a lot for people to bear. People might feel culpability and shame, especially for males,” Jeglic said. 

Ohio State’s independent investigation conducted by Perkins Coie, LLP, began in April 2018 and consisted of 600 interviews with 520 interviewees throughout the course of one year, including the 177 Strauss victims. 

The independent review of Michigan is being conducted by law firm Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, according to the release. 

According to news reports, the state of Michigan passed legislation in 2018 that extended the statute of limitations — or the window of time in which a victim can pursue legal action — for childhood sexual assault victims until their 28th birthdays or three years after they realized they’ve been abused. The legislation also provided a 90-day window for victims of Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor, to retroactively sue. 

According to Michigan State’s 2019 Annual Crime Report, on- and off-campus crimes related to Nassar reported in 2018 totaled 987 counts of rape and 150 counts of fondling. Michigan State and hundreds of Nassar’s accusers reached a $500-million settlement; Ohio State and Strauss victims are currently in mediation. 

In Ohio, Strauss victims are currently barred from taking action against Ohio State by the statute of limitations for this type of civil case. House Bill 249, proposed by Ohio State Rep. Brett Hillyer, a Republican representing Tuscarawas County and part of Holmes County, is intended to give victims an opportunity for compensation by lifting the statute of limitations for Strauss victims.

Hillyer said the bill was modeled after the Michigan legislation that lifted the statute of limitations in the Nassar case. On Feb. 11, the Ohio House Civil Justice Committee held its sixth hearing for the bill. 

As far as preventing similar abuses in the future, Jeglic said institutions should have policies in place, such as open-door and chaperone policies, and they should be transparent and supportive of people who come forward.

“I think the biggest takeaway is that men can also be abused, and institutions need to really step up and be accountable for their role in this kind of systemic abuse,” Jeglic said.