Rape, dating violence up at Ohio State in 2019; Strauss crimes total nearly 2,400

Jennifer Smola Shaffer
The Columbus Dispatch
Aerial drone photo of the Oval at the Ohio State University on Nov. 24, 2017.

Rapes, stalking, and dating and domestic violence cases were up in 2019 at Ohio State, according to its most recent campus safety report, which again revealed new details about the late doctor Richard Strauss’s sexual abuse on campus years ago. 

The crime statistics for 2019 were released by Ohio State on Thursday. Each year, higher education institutions that receive federal funding are required under the Clery Act to publish an annual safety report and campus crime statistics for the previous three years. Typically, those reports are due each year by Oct. 1, but the U.S. Department of Education extended the deadline this year to Dec. 31, due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The statistics include crimes reported on campus, in non-campus university buildings or property controlled by Ohio State or its student organizations, and on public property within or immediately adjacent to campus. 

Strauss crimes

Like last year’s statistics, the report released Thursday sheds light on sexual misconduct by Strauss, the late Ohio State physician accused of sexually abusing hundreds of former students. 

Ohio State now says more than 2,200 instances of fondling and 127 instances of rape attributable to Strauss were reported in 2018 and 2019. 

Under federal guidelines, universities must count crime statistics in the year they were reported rather than the year they occurred. Because much of the investigation into Strauss occurred in 2018 and 2019, Ohio State’s safety report reflects the hundreds of accounts of misconduct by the doctor. The statistics also refer to total incidents reported, not the total number of victims. 

Dr. Richard Strauss has been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of former students while he worked for Ohio State University from 1978 to 1998. This photo was included with his 1978 application to Ohio State's medical staff.

Ohio State disclosed many of the Strauss-related crimes when it released its 2018 campus safety report last year. At the time, the university also announced the number of Strauss crimes reported through September 2019, even though those wouldn’t be reflected until the next year’s campus safety report. At that time, the university said there had been 1,429 instances of fondling and 47 instances of rape attributable to Strauss, reported between 2018 and September 2019. 

More:Number of sex crimes at Ohio State, Michigan State ‘unprecedented’ due to Richard Strauss,Larry Nassar cases

That means abuse by Strauss continued to be reported late last year, nearly a year and a half after Ohio State announced an investigation into the late doctor, and months after it released investigators' findings that Strauss had sexually abused dozens of students during his 20-year career and that university officials repeatedly failed to act. Strauss died by suicide in 2005.

From Sept. 30, 2019, through the end of 2019, reports of fondling by Strauss jumped by 772, nearly doubling the total, and reports of rape by Strauss jumped by 80.

More:Former students again plead with Ohio State board over Richard Strauss abuse

The total reported Strauss-related crimes include accounts from students who reported the abuse firsthand, some of which might have been recurring. It also covered some incidents in which students shared that a teammate had been abused, as well as reportable incidents mentioned in Strauss-related lawsuits against Ohio State. That means it’s possible that some of the reports could overlap, university officials have said. 

The large number of Strauss-related reports during the last three months of 2019 were attributed largely to court pleadings filed between the end of September and the end of the year, Ohio State officials said. 

Ohio State has reached settlements on the Strauss matter totaling $46.7 million among 185 plaintiffs, but lawsuits representing hundreds more plaintiffs remain in litigation. 

Because the Clery Act stipulates that universities count crimes during the year they were reported, Ohio State officials expect additional Strauss-related incidents could be included in campus safety for the next several years, Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said in a written statement. 

Current campus crime 

More recently at Ohio State's main Columbus campus, crimes continued to rise in some categories in 2019.

There were 118 reports of rape last year at Ohio State, up from 93 in 2018, and 72 in 2017. 

Reports of stalking also increased to 91 in 2019, up from 57 the year before, while reports of dating violence totaled 64, up from 35 in 2018. 

Ohio State officials point to an ongoing focus on educating the campus community about reporting sexual misconduct for the increases in reports. The university's most recent campus climate survey found that about 32% of students were “very or extremely knowledgeable about where to make a report of sexual assault or misconduct” at OSU. Four years prior, only 21% of students reported the same. 

Still, Ohio State Police Chief Kimberly Spears-McNatt said university crime numbers are always a concern. 

"We always say, 'one is too many,'" she said of the sexual assault statistics. "And so those numbers always cause concern, and (we're always) looking at room for improvement and how we can do better." 

In 2019, the university also saw increases in aggravated assaults, up from seven in 2018 to 22 in 2019. That included five drugging reports in February of last year. 

Hate crimes also increased in 2019 to 12, up from three in 2019. Ohio State said they did not identify trends in this area, but believe the increase to be a return toward the average of previous years’ data. 

Down slightly in 2019 were reports of fondling, declining from 48 in 2018 to 43 last year. 

Burglaries also were down last year, dropping to 71 in 2019 from 95 in 2019. 

Ohio State's 2019 crime statistics also include two reports of murder and non-negligent manslaughter. Neither involved Ohio State students or personnel, university spokesman Dan Hedman said. One case involved a fight between two men near 11th Avenue and High Street on July 26, 2019. One of the men was struck and later died. The other case involved a fatal stabbing near 9th and Neil avenues on Sept. 19, 2019.

Campus arrests for alcohol law violations totaled 56 in 2019, down from 63 in 2018 and 130 in 2017.

Arrests for drug law violations, though, increased in 2019 with 60 arrests, up from 38 the year before. 

This fall, Ohio State created a safety and well-being task force after the October killing of Ohio State fifth-year Chase Meola in the University District neighborhood. Last month, the task force proposed more than a dozen new safety and security recommendations, including expanding surveillance camera coverage off-campus, increasing university police staffing and evaluating lighting in off-campus neighborhoods.