Accountability for doctors who abuse patients

Doctors are supposed to protect patients; university officials are supposed to look out for the well-being of students. People in authority aren’t supposed to protect each other at the expense of the public.

Those truths endure, even though decades have passed since Dr. Richard Strauss used his position as a physician at Ohio State University to sexually abuse what might be hundreds of student athletes. We applaud Gov. Mike DeWine’s determination that doctors or others who had reason to suspect that Strauss was abusing patients — but did nothing about it — should be held accountable.

The inclination to shield professional colleagues from criticism or shame is understandable on a human level but still wrong, especially when the stakes are as high as they are for medical practitioners. Perhaps it is those very stakes that makes some difficult and high-stress professions — doctors and police officers come to mind — especially prone to closing ranks against outside critics.

It’s as plausible a reason as any for why a 1996 investigation by the State Medical Board of Ohio resulted in no finding or action against Strauss even though a separate, concurrent investigation by Ohio State eventually found that Strauss had been “performing inappropriate genital exams on male students for years.”

Regarding cases falling into oblivion, a 15-member panel DeWine appointed to review the medical board’s probe was told by some investigators, that “that sometimes happens.”

We hope that further actions discussed by the medical board will make such negligence less common in the future or at least make it easier to uncover. Ideas include reviewing closed cases regularly to double-check whether closure was appropriate and working more closely with law enforcement to ensure that criminal charges are filed when warranted.

… The thoroughness and openness of OSU’s recent investigation has been welcome, but the university has yet to fully do right by the students it acknowledges were wronged.

At least seven lawsuits against OSU involving as many as 300 plaintiffs have been consolidated in federal court. Ohio State contends the suits should be dismissed because the statute of limitations for the complaints has expired. It is participating in court-ordered mediation with the former students, but an agreement — and compensation — could be a very long time coming.

… Ohio State, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education for earlier failures under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, invested heavily in 2015 in a new Sexual Civility and Empowerment Center, aiming to be a national leader in combating sexual misconduct on campus. Somehow, what followed were accusations of victim-blaming by the staff and failure in at least 57 potential felony cases to report them to police.

… It’s up to people who are tired of the free passes for powerful sexual abusers and their enablers to keep the pressure on for change and redress. It’s not too late for those who ignored Strauss’ abuse to be held to account. And it’s none too soon for Ohio State to do more than apologize.

— The Columbus Dispatch; Online: