A former Ohio State University student says he submitted a written complaint alleging inappropriate conduct by Dr. Richard Strauss during a medical exam in the 1990s, nearly two decades before the university announced it was investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by the now-deceased physician.
Steve Snyder-Hill, who attended Ohio State as an undergraduate and graduate student between 1991 and 1998, told The Dispatch he wrote a letter in the mid-1990's to an official within Ohio State’s student health center after he was examined by Strauss.
Snyder-Hill said he was seen by Strauss when he made an appointment at the health center after noticing a lump on his chest. Strauss, after asking Snyder-Hill what the problem was, proceeded to examine Snyder-Hill’s genitals, even before examining the lump on his chest, Snyder-Hill recalls.
“I remember thinking, ‘Why do you have to do all this?’” he said.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/columbusdispatch and connect with us on Twitter @DispatchAlerts
When the physician did examine Snyder-Hill’s chest, Strauss pushed his body against his, and Snyder-Hill felt Strauss had an erection, he said.
“I knew at the time it was an erection, and it creeped me out,” he said. “You don’t know what to say or do because it’s just so profound, like you just don’t expect somebody to do something that gross.”
Attorneys with Perkins Coie, the Seattle-based law firm handling the independent investigation into the Strauss allegations for Ohio State, confirmed to Snyder-Hill in an email that they have paperwork from the incident he reported.
The Dispatch has requested a copy of Snyder-Hill's complaint through a public records request. The university did not comment directly on the complaint Monday.
“We are aware of reports that individuals at the university did not respond appropriately during Richard Strauss’ time at Ohio State from 1978-1998,” Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said in an emailed statement. “These allegations are troubling and are a critical focus of the independent investigation that remains underway. Ohio State is focused on uncovering what may have happened during this era, what university leaders at the time may have known, and whether any response at the time was appropriate.”
Since Ohio State first announced the investigation into Strauss in April, university officials have not said publicly whether complaints were formally filed against Strauss during his employment there. Strauss’ employment documents, released by the university in June, show he was employed by the university from 1978 to 1998 but includes no mention of Snyder-Hill’s complaint, disciplinary action or internal investigations into the doctor.
Now, Snyder-Hill is an advocate for LGBT rights. He and his husband joined as plaintiffs in the 2013 Supreme Court case that ultimately struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. He was booed in 2011 for asking a question during a Republican presidential debate about being a gay soldier in the military and the status of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
But as a student in the 1990s, Snyder-Hill was still grappling with his sexuality and had not yet come out as gay.
“I wasn’t out to anybody, and I was really trying to accept myself and come out to myself,” Snyder-Hill said.
That complicated things for Snyder-Hill.
“I didn’t know how to tell people without making it seem like I might have brought something on myself,” he said of his encounter with Strauss. “I was worried about that, and I was worried that might expose me for being gay because this guy did this to me.”
Though he didn’t immediately tell any friends or family members, he ultimately decided to file a written complaint with an administrator in the student health department, Snyder-Hill said.
“Even then, I thought, ‘This is a principle, I don’t care. It wasn’t something I did, it was what he did,’ so that’s when I contacted the health center,” he said.
Snyder-Hill recalls university officials responding to his complaint back then, explaining that they had asked Strauss about the allegations and that he had denied having an erection and said he was just doing his job. Snyder-Hill voiced his disagreement at the time, he recalled.
But that was the end of it.
Until last week, when a glance at Strauss’ photo in news reports sent Snyder-Hill reliving his time at the student health center 20 years ago.
“When I saw his picture, it triggered me like nobody’s business,” he said.
Ohio State first announced in April that it would launch an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct involving Strauss, stemming from initial reports of abuse during Strauss’ time as a physician with the men’s wrestling team in the 1980s. Since then, independent investigators working with the university have interviewed more than 150 former students or witnesses, and former student-athletes from at least 14 men’s sports teams have alleged sexual misconduct by Strauss, who killed himself in 2005.
A number of former athletes have spoken publicly about sexual abuse by Strauss, while others who knew him described him as an odd man but not sexually abusive.
The investigation has received heightened national attention in recent days, as a number of former Ohio State wrestlers have accused U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of knowing about the abuse by Strauss. The Urbana Republican has repeatedly said he knew nothing about the abuse. Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1986 to 1994. Several other former wrestlers and coaches have come forward to defend Jordan.
Snyder-Hill said he hadn’t been following Ohio State’s investigation until recently, when he saw Strauss’ photo and made the connection.
“Nobody, to this day, has contacted me and said, ‘Hey, we had another allegation,'” Snyder-Hill said.
He reached out to Perkins Coie investigators last week, who he had not heard from, and explained his experience and his written complaint. Perkins Coie replied that they had documentation from Snyder-Hill’s incident with Strauss and that they were hoping they might hear from him.
Snyder-Hill said he thinks Strauss was mentally ill, and while he’s angry for what Strauss did to him, he’s twice as angry with anyone who might have helped protect him.
“Am I mad at him? Absolutely,” Snyder-Hill said. “I think it’s disgusting what he did to people, but I’m twice as mad at people who covered it up, the people that protected him, that let him prey on vulnerable people. They’re worse than he could ever be.”
The university continues to encourage anyone with information about incidents relating to Strauss and his time at Ohio State to contact Perkins Coie investigators at firstname.lastname@example.org.