Ohio State sex abuse survivors plan appeals, defend motives

Sep 28, 2021, 12:05 AM | Updated: 12:07 pm

FILE-This Tuesday, July 17, 2018 file photo shows former Ohio State University student Steve Snyder-Hill discussing a complaint he submitted decades ago about the behavior of Dr. Richard Strauss, during an interview at home in Columbus, Ohio. Snyder-Hill is among the men planning to appeal the dismissal of lawsuits they filed against Ohio State over decades-old sexual abuse by the late team doctor Richard Strauss. Snyder-Hill says it's not about money but about holding the university accountable for what happened back then and how it has responded to their claims raised in recent years. (AP Photo/Kantele Franko, File)

(AP Photo/Kantele Franko, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After a judge recently dismissed some of the biggest unsettled lawsuits against Ohio State over decades-old sexual abuse by a long-dead team doctor, Steve Snyder-Hill heard a familiar voice questioning why he and other alumni keep pressing their cases against the university.

Even his own mother wondered if it was just about seeking more compensation, he said. He assured her that at least for him, it’s not about the money.

He and some of the other men planning to further appeal their cases say what they’re after is less tangible.

Snyder-Hill wants bigger changes in how sexual misconduct is handled. Dan Ritchie wants an outcome that doesn’t block the survivors from criticizing how Ohio State responded as accusations became public over the past few years.

Mike Schyck wants an ending that forces the university to acknowledge more specific responsibility for what went wrong, beyond the broader public apologies it has made for failing to stop Dr. Richard Strauss, even though students had raised concerns.

“They prop you up and say: Thank you for your bravery, and we’re sorry this has happened, you know, but sorry, not sorry,” said Schyck, a former wrestler.

Ohio State officials contend the university took the allegations seriously, had a law firm investigate, responded with transparency and empathy, made changes to prevent and address sexual misconduct, and tried to do the right thing through settlement offers.

The university reached nearly $47 million in settlements with 185 survivors — an average of about $252,000 — and then offered certain remaining plaintiffs an individual settlement program with average payouts limited to that same amount.

In all, Ohio State said it settled with more than 230 men. The total sum hasn’t been disclosed.

Former hockey player Roger Beedon felt the offers “just didn’t add up” for him and some of the other plaintiffs in light of what they experienced.

Many of the accusers said they were fondled in required medical exams at campus athletic facilities throughout his two decades at Ohio State, or at a student health center, the doctor’s home or his off-campus clinic. Some said they were raped.

U.S. District Judge Michael Watson last week dismissed the bulk of the unsettled cases, involving more than 200 plaintiffs. He concluded that though university officials turned a blind eye to Strauss’ abuse of hundreds of young men, the legal time limit for the claims had passed.

Cases filed even more recently, involving dozens of plaintiffs, are still pending. Ohio State has argued those should be dismissed, too.

Attorney Richard Schulte said he has over 50 clients in that group who didn’t get to mediate their cases or participate in the individual settlement program.

“Ohio State has decided for whatever reason to exclude all these survivors and deny them any accountability whatsoever,” Schulte said.

Attorneys for many of the men who came forward with claims have argued most didn’t recognize their experiences as abuse or understand Ohio State’s role in enabling it until after accusations about Strauss first became public in 2018.

A statement from lawyers representing Snyder-Hill and more than 100 others said Watson’s ruling “sends a disturbing message that the very real challenges sexual abuse survivors often face in understanding what has happened to them – and who enabled the abuse they experienced – is irrelevant when they ultimately ask for the court’s help in holding abusive people and institutions accountable.”

Beedon said it’s also been frustrating and hurtful to see social media users and other critics questioning survivors’ motives as they continue litigation.

“I don’t know if they understand fully the pain and the counseling and the anger and how we dealt with this and how this has affected our personal lives even to this day,” Beedon said.

Ritchie, a former wrestler who graduated in 1994, said it’s been grueling to have memories and impacts dragged to the fore and into the headlines again and again. But he said he wouldn’t accept settlement terms that prohibit disparaging how Ohio State has handled the allegations over the past three years.

“I want this to end, but not like this,” he said.

Schyck worries the judge’s decision about the Ohio State matter will discourage survivors of long-ago abuse from coming forward or speaking up elsewhere, such as in a similar case at the University of Michigan. But Schyck says he’s undeterred.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “We’ve waited 3 1/2 years. If we have to keep going, we’ll keep going.”

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