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Ohio State University announced on Friday that independent researchers had interviewed more than 200 former students and staff in their research on accusations of sexual misconduct against Dr. Richard Strauss, a physician employed at the university from the mid-1970s through the 1990s.
Ohio State began a formal investigation of the doctor in April and more than 100 former students at Ohio State University have reported that they were victims of sexual misconduct by Strauss, a spokesman for the university said on Friday. Since Strauss committed suicide in 2005, he will never be charged or criminally liable.
What about the possible criminal liability of another person? Faculty members or remaining employees of the university?
It is possible for a creative prosecutor to articulate a theory of criminal responsibility for members of the Ohio State community who knew or should have known of the abuse of the students. But it's not likely.
One could consider precedent, for example, the case of Jerry Sandusky at the Pennsylvania State University. Former PSU president Graham Spanier was convicted in 2017 for covering up allegations of child sexual abuse in 2001 against Sandusky. Sporting Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz also pleaded guilty to committing a misdemeanor and testified against Spanier at his trial.
The Penn State case differs significantly from the Ohio State investigation in that Penn state involving child abuse. The duty to report alleged sexual assault on adults involves a different set of laws.
Pennsylvania law imposes mandatory information requirements on people who interact with children as part of their employment, when they have "reasonable cause" to suspect that a child is a victim of sexual abuse based on their "medical, professional or other training and experience. "
If all of the alleged victims of the state of Ohio were 18 years of age or older, the age of majority in Ohio, then any similar Ohio law that requires reporting a child's sexual abuse would probably not apply. However, in a lawsuit filed against Ohio State, one of the plaintiffs alleges that he was 14 years old when the abuse began.
Meanwhile, at another Big Ten University, Michigan State University, former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, William Strampel, faces charges that arose in connection with the investigation of his subordinate, Dr. Larry Nassar, the MSU physician. who was convicted of sexual abuse of dozens of patients and athletes.
A judge at Strampel's preliminary hearing in June ruled that there was sufficient evidence of charges of misconduct in the position and criminal sexual conduct to advance the trial. In that case, however, the witnesses stated that Strampel indirectly proposed sex to them during the meetings, and another said that Strampel groped for her at a public event. The former dean is not accused of mere knowledge and of not reporting abuse; he is accused of his own crimes, regardless of Nassar's behavior.
Even if an Ohio State official does not report his mere suspicion of sexual assault to an adult by another college employee it is not automatically a crime in Ohio, it is certainly a violation of university policy. And, if a violation of the policy is considered a violation of a duty, it is not a great leap to say that a sufficiently serious violation of a legal duty constitutes gross negligence that would support a criminal charge.
At Ohio State University, all employees have a duty to report inappropriate sexual conduct, which is "conduct of a sexual nature or conduct based on sex or gender that is not consensual or has the effect of threatening, intimidating or coercing a person" . Any person who supervises students; chairs / directors; and all members of the faculty have a great responsibility to report incidents of sexual misconduct, due to their position of authority. While that is the current policy, it may not have been the policy during the Strauss era in the state of Ohio.
It is not difficult for a prosecutor to find criminal guilt for a heinous and intentional violation of a known duty, especially in the case of a professional like a doctor.
Danny Cevallos is a legal analyst for MSNBC. Follow @CevallosLaw on Twitter.