By Jeremy Pelzer
In the wake of revelations that ex-Ohio State University athletic doctor Richard Strauss sexually abused at least 177 male students between 1979 and 1998, Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday called on Ohio lawmakers to abolish the state's statute of limitations for sexual assault.
During a Statehouse news conference, the governor also urged legislators to extend the statute of limitations for other sex crimes, take a "hard look" at extending the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits, and toughen penalties for sex crimes committed by authority figures.
Strauss, who killed himself in 2005, likely couldn't be prosecuted for most of his crimes if he was alive today, DeWine said, because Ohio's statute of limitations for rape is 20-25 years, depending on the circumstances. The time limit on prosecuting other felony sex crimes is as little as six years, he said. Charges for misdemeanor sex crimes such as groping and fondling must be filed within two years, and civil lawsuits must be filed within 1-2 years.
The governor also signed an executive order creating a working group of state and law-enforcement officials to study an unredacted version of an OSU report released last Friday to see whether the Ohio State Medical Board knew about Strauss' abuse of young men -- and, if so, whether the board did anything in response. DeWine said he believes the group can legally tell the public in "general terms" about the medical board's actions.
The working group will also make recommendations about ways for the state medical board to increase transparency in such cases, he said.
"We can use this tragedy as an opportunity to review Ohio's current laws and to take steps to change the culture of how we respond to sexual abuse," DeWine said.
The Ohio State report, conducted by an outside law firm on behalf of the university, detailed how Strauss abused more than 150 student-athletes while working as an OSU team doctor -- from requiring invasive exams for minor ailments to showering with athletes to performing sex acts.
He abused other students at an off-campus health clinic, or through what Strauss called "medical studies," according to the report.
DeWine acknowledged that state lawmakers have been reluctant in recent years to extend the statute of limitations for sex crimes. But he said the statute of limitations should be different for sex crimes because victims often don't -- or can't -- come forward until long afterward.
"I would just ask members of the General Assembly, what would you tell your constituents today -- or what would you tell your constituents tomorrow -- if we come upon another tragedy like this where we have a monster who has been doing things like this and he's alive, but...we can't prosecute?" DeWine asked.
Ohio State asked a judge earlier this month to make public part of the redactions in its report involving a state medical board investigation into Strauss' actions. In a statement Monday, Ohio State President Michael Drake said the university will continue to push for that permission.
"We share Governor DeWine's concern and compassion for survivors of sexual abuse and applaud the administration's efforts to strengthen sexual misconduct reporting to law enforcement," Drake stated, adding, "Ohio State is a fundamentally different university today."
Brian Garrett, who said Strauss abused him in 1996 while working at the off-campus clinic, attended the news conference and asked DeWine to support House Bill 249, which would allow people who say that Strauss abused them to sue Ohio State. (DeWine said he hasn't yet reviewed the legislation.)
"We want to put these people on the stand. We want to make these people talk," Garrett told reporters afterward, referring to university officials. "The only way that we're going to do this is if we can assure that the statute of limitations is out there."
But Ohio House Democrats released a statement Monday criticizing HB 249 as "weak," because it's narrowly tailored only to apply to civil lawsuits against Ohio State and wouldn't extend the statute of limitations for all civil lawsuits involving sexual misconduct.
The release noted that Democrats have pushed several times in recent years to end the statute of limitations for rape, but the Republican majority has only agreed to expand the statute of limitations from 20 years to 25 years.
"We're disappointed, but not surprised, that this bill misses that mark so terribly by failing to protect the many other Ohioans around our state who are equally deserving of justice," said Democratic state Rep. Lisa Sobecki of Toledo, in a statement.
(c)2019 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland