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COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNN) — A college wrestling referee says former Ohio State University athletic team doctor Richard Strauss masturbated in front of him inside a locker room shower in the mid-1990’s, according to a new lawsuit filed against the school.
When he reported the incident to OSU’s wrestling coaches — US Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, then the team’s assistant coach, and Russ Hellickson, the team’s former head coach — they failed to take any action, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday.
They responded, “Yeah, that’s Strauss,” the referee, referred to in the lawsuit as John Doe 42, alleges.
The lawsuit, filed in Ohio federal court by 43 men who claim they were “sexually assaulted, abused, molested and/or harassed by Dr. Strauss,” is filed against OSU alone and has no individual defendants.
Jordan has previously denied knowing about allegations of sexual abuse at Ohio State. And he did again Friday.
“Congressman Jordan never saw or heard of any kind of sexual abuse, and if he had he would’ve dealt with it. Multiple investigations have confirmed this simple fact,” a spokesperson from his office said in a statement Friday.
When reached by CNN, Hellickson declined to comment.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit do not list Jordan or Hellickson as one of the 20 named “OSU employees with authority to take corrective action to address it” who were notified about Strauss’ alleged sexual harassment.
The referee is at least the second person to publicly say he directly told Jordan about alleged inappropriate behavior by Strauss.
Scott Smith, an attorney representing the 43 Strauss victims, said Friday the former doctor’s abuse should not focus on Jordan, but OSU as a whole complicit institution.
“This isn’t a political issue in our estimation. This is an issue about Ohio State. This isn’t about Jim Jordan, he happens to be a witness. He just happens to be a name of a person who was present,” Smith said.
Strauss was found by independent investigators hired by OSU to have sexually abused at least 177 students while he worked at the school between 1978 and 1998. He died by suicide in 2005.
The plaintiffs say the university’s “knowledge, deliberate indifference and culpability” helped facilitate alleged abuse of student-athletes and others by Strauss.
Ohio State issued this statement in response to the lawsuit: “Ohio State has led the effort to investigate and expose the misdeeds of Richard Strauss and the systemic failures to respond, and the university is committed to a fair resolution.”
This suit alleges Title IX violations
Several other lawsuits have been filed against Ohio State over the allegations concerning Strauss.
A suit filed last May by 37 former OSU students alleged the university “actively concealed” its knowledge of actions by the doctor. Two class action suits filed in 2018 by former wrestlers said the university turned a blind eye to a doctor’s alleged sexual abuse of student athletes.
The new lawsuit is seeking an unspecified amount of compensatory damages for a litany of costs, including medical expenses, for deprivation of rights, for past, present, and future emotional pain and suffering, and for a loss of future earnings. The plaintiffs also seek a declaration that OSU violated Title IX by facilitating sexual harassment of students.
In the complaint, another former OSU student referred to as John Doe 32 claims that Strauss raped him in 1979 after he went to see the doctor after seeking treatment for pain, according to the suit. He said he blacked out from medication that Strauss gave him before waking up “face down on the floor experiencing extreme rectal pain.”
Another former OSU student, Hugh Dyer, says in the lawsuit that Strauss attempted oral sex on him on multiple occasions. Dyer alleges that Strauss instructed him to take off all his clothes, complimented his body, and tried to move his mouth to Dyer’s penis, but that Dyer managed to pull away each time.
Attorneys for the 43 plaintiffs call Strauss a monster who preyed on vulnerable students, many of whom were athletes fearful of losing their scholarships if they did not comply with university requirements of exams with Strauss. They characterize Strauss’ conduct as “perhaps the greatest sex abuse scandal in American history” and “without question the greatest scandal in the history of American higher education.”
OSU says it is paying for counseling services
OSU said in a statement Friday that it is “actively participating in good faith in the mediation process directed by the federal court” and that it has been covering the cost of professionally certified counseling services for anyone affected, as well as reimbursing costs for counseling already received. The school maintains it has taken steps to address Strauss’ conduct.
“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. Richard Strauss’ actions are reprehensible, and we remain deeply concerned for all those who have been affected by Strauss,” the school said in a statement.
Many of the lawsuit’s 43 plaintiffs dropped out of OSU and never earned a college degree, the suit says, and several still suffer debilitating anxiety and reported experiencing confusion with their sexuality. Multiple plaintiffs report fearing sending their own children off to college out of fear they may also be abused, the suit says.
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