COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A rally put sexual abuse on center stage on The Ohio State University campus Thursday afternoon. OSU is dealing with a couple sex abuse scandals involving a former diving coach and team doctor.
Ella Lewie, a sexual abuse survivor, heads up Ohio State’s chapter of “It’s On Us.” The group formed to fight the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses.
“We need to believe survivors. We need to support survivors. We need to make a difference. We need to ask our legislators to support and believe survivors. We need to ask our campus to support and believe survivors. It’s on all of us to make this change,” Lewie said.
Estee Pryor trained with the Ohio State Diving Club as a teenager. Pryor told the group about how she was treated when she revealed at age 16 she was in an abusive relationship with the former diving coach.
“It’s kind of sad that the student body has to come together to make some changes instead of the people who should be doing their jobs,” said Pryor.
“Taking advantage of somebody is not okay. Predators groom the community. They groom the victim,” said Pryor. “I was failed by the system. I got treated like the predator. And I became the liar and I became everything that he did and that was wrong.”
Derek Morgan, an OSUMETOO supporter said he wanted to participate in the rally to send a message. “It just shows a long systemic history of Ohio State ignoring victims , ignoring survivors. Not really taking their claims seriously and sweeping them under the rug.”
Brian Garrett, who said he survived abuse by former Doctor Richard Strauss as an OSU nursing student said he came to the university thinking it would be safe, and that if something happened to him that the university would protect him. Garrett said frustration is building among victims of Strauss because OSU is not dealing with their concerns in a timely manner. “They don’t want to sit down at the table. They don’t want to acknowledge what happened. They don’t want to take accountability.”
Pryor said she has a message for university trustees.
“I would say if you have a son or daughter and this happened to them. What would you do? What would you do. Would you respond and react the same way that you are currently to all these victims that are coming out.”
Sex abuse survivors said they want to appear before the trustees later this month at their meeting. OSU spokesman Ben Johnson said “the university will work with victims to ensure that at the appropriate time and place they have the opportunity to be heard.”
Johnson said, “when the university of today received reports of sexual misconduct, Ohio State immediately and unambiguously took action to get to the truth and live up to one of our core values – that we do not tolerate sexual misconduct.”
“The university began an independent investigation led by experienced investigators in the field of sexual misconduct. That investigation is ongoing and Ohio State receives updates from the independent team at Perkins Coie regarding their work and has shared those updates publicly. The identity of those who contact Perkins Coie is treated with the utmost confidence and sensitivity permitted by law, and individuals may report anonymously if they wish. The university remains committed to understanding what took place many years ago and is grateful to all who have been willing to share their stories to date.
The independent investigative team is using the most trauma-informed approach to an investigation of this type, which does not include reaching out to prospective victims directly due to the concern of re-traumatizing those who may have been affected and do not wish to revisit the experience. We continue to encourage anyone with information to contact investigators at Perkins Coie (firstname.lastname@example.org).”
Regarding request to speak at the board meeting Johnson said in an email statement:
“We are deeply concerned for anyone who was affected by Richard Strauss’ actions several decades ago. The university is steadfastly and unambiguously committed to getting to the truth, and we are grateful for their voices. The independent investigation is ongoing, and the investigative team has listened to approximately 150 former students who have provided accounts of abuse by Strauss. We continue to encourage anyone with information to contact investigators at Perkins Coie (email@example.com). The identities of victims are treated with the utmost confidence and sensitivity permitted by law.”
“The university was pleased to be dismissed from the diving lawsuit. We have always maintained that -- fully consistent with our core value of protecting the safety and well-being of those we serve in our community -- the university handled this matter appropriately.”
“The university learned of the allegations regarding a dive club member against Will Bohonyi on Aug. 10, 2014, and the university placed him on administrative leave that same day and immediately opened an administrative investigation.”