COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Hundreds of men who sued Ohio State University for allegedly mishandling and ignoring sexual abuse by university doctor Richard Strauss refuse to give up the fight even though a federal judge dismissed their claims last week.
One of the John Does in the case, who until now remained anonymous, is going public, saying there will be an appeal and there are reasons beyond the law for Ohio State University to take responsibility.
Gary Avis was a manager of the men’s gymnastics team in the early 1980s, who said what Strauss did drove him to addiction, and he believes OSU allowed it to happen.
“This is, like, horrifying that this is happening, and I might start crying now because it’s so difficult, and especially because I know the same thing happened to guys over and over and over again, and people at Ohio State, all the way to the top, knew this was happening,” Avis said.
The names change, but more than three years into the legal battle, the story is too familiar. A young man, usually an OSU athlete, goes in for what should be a routine physical.
“In fact, when I told my coach I was going, one of my teammates told me, ‘Be careful.’ I was, like, ‘Why?’” Avis said.
But he soon learned.
“One of the most embarrassing things for guys is when they have to check for a hernia and it all happened so fast, it was just impossible to start,” Avis said. “He knew exactly where to touch a man to stimulate a reaction with me.”
The groping, the assault continued.
“At the same time, I am just, like, floating away in my head because this is not something that is supposed to happen and it’s very traumatic,” Avis said.
He said 18-, 19-, 20-year-old scholarship students back then, in 1983, didn’t dare talk about it.
“It was so humiliating and embarrassing that this happened that I tried to bury this, but it didn’t work very well,” he said.
Avis’ grades plummeted, ruining his plans for grad school. He sunk into a depression and turned to drugs and alcohol.
“I remember a couple of times I, the middle of the night, 2 a.m., sitting on the ground in Tuttle Park, just, like, crying out to God to, like, help me, to stop this,” he said.
For nearly 40 years, he buried the pain, but he’s been sober now for three decades, and when investigators hired by the university, from the law firm Perkins Coie, called him, he finally talked, and he joined one of the lawsuits, hoping to protect today’s students.
“I can’t go to a gymnastics meet or a practice without seeing myself or my teammates in these guys now,” Avis said. “They look like kids to me now and I’m, like, ‘This was us,’ and I told myself I cannot let this happen to people again, so for people that say it’s about money, it’s not.”
Avis said the university argued it has no legal obligation here, but he believes it has a moral one.
“It’s what I’ve learned, my faith, being Jewish,” Avis said. “It’s what I’ve learned from my parents, especially my father, about doing the right thing, even when the personal cost might be high. That Ohio State knew what was going on and that’s one of the things that makes me angry, and I think all of the other guys, the other victims, is that somebody could have stopped this.”
Avis wants to secure a way for students to report sexual abuse.
In a statement Wednesday, Ohio State said:
“Over the past 20 years, Ohio State has committed substantial resources to prevent and address sexual misconduct. These actions include new policies, programs, staffing and tools throughout the university.”OSU statement
“Within the Department of Athletics, the university has made significant improvements, including additional options for reporting misconduct and expanded training…”
The university also has an anonymous reporting hotline that receives hundreds of reports a year. For more on how to report sexual abuse to the university, click here.