COLUMBUS, Ohio — Some of the men abused by former Ohio State University Dr. Richard Strauss are calling out state lawmakers after Republican state Rep. Bill Seitz said a bill to help sexual abuse victims seek justice was never meant to become law.
Mike Schyck, a former Ohio State wrestler, recently tasked a number of fellow Strauss victims to email Ohio lawmakers calling on them to re-up House Bill 249, which would have extended the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse.
Schyck was one of hundreds of men who sued Ohio State over its handling of sexual abuse allegations against Strauss. In late September, a federal judge dismissed all of the outstanding civil cases against Ohio State over its handling of Strauss abuse allegations, noting the Legislature had the power “but not the will” to change the statute of limitations for the victims.
The men didn’t receive many response to their emails, so Schyck sent a second round of pleas to lawmakers. It was then that Schyck received a response from Seitz, a Green Township Republican and the majority floor leader.
In an email, Seitz responded, “I do not support a resurrection of HB 249 ... HB 249 was intended to apply pressure to Ohio State to come to the table and make meaningful settlement offers.”
Schyck said Seitz’s response was offensive and irresponsible.
“The only way we’re going to see this change is to change the law,” he said. “Everybody is failing us.”
Seitz continued in his email to say that he thinks the bill was flawed and that its passage would have created an unintended slew of other abuse victims coming forward.
“As such, had it been enacted, it would have led to a flood of similar demands that the civil statutes of limitations for damages be lifted as to lawsuits against churches, the Boy Scouts, the Girls Scouts, and any number of charitable institutions who past practices facilitated abuse similar to the abuse you suffered,” Seitz wrote in the email first reported by Columbus’ WCMH-TV.
Schyck said Seitz’s rationale makes it appear that he is “looking out for the perpetrators of abuse” rather than the victims.
Seitz told the Columbus Dispatch on Friday morning that he always opposed the bill on principle and sees no reason to change the current statute of limitations.
“My understanding is that part of the rationale was to keep the heat on Ohio State,” Seitz said.
And in that sense, he thinks the bill worked. The university said in May that it had paid out nearly $47 million in settlements with 185 victims. The average victim received $252,000.
“The university paid out $252,000 apiece for stuff that happened 30 and 40 years ago,” Seitz said. “I consider that to be quite generous.”
“Ohio State didn’t do anything to these people. One of their employees did,” Seitz said.
A number of Strauss victims testified multiple times before legislators on the House Civil Justice Committee in 2019 and 2020. Schyck said he personally testified twice, and his parents shared their story once.
“It’s like no one wants to do this,” he said. “They use us as political pawns.”
Gov. Mike DeWine has long been skeptical of the idea that the state could legally extend or remove the statute of limitations for one group of sexual abuse victims.
“I think that it’s probably not appropriate to have a bill that treats different victims, who are really in the same position, differently,” DeWine said in February 2020. “A bill that would only apply to certain victims raises some ethical, moral and constitutional challenges.”
Prosecutors in Ohio can file most rape charges up to 20 years after the attack. Cases involving minors have a 25-year expiration date. The statute of limitations for civil cases is even shorter. Adult victims have two years, and abused children have until their 30th birthday.
The average age of victims in the Strauss case is 50.
Democrats in the Statehouse have long pushed to lift the statute of limitations for all sexual assault victims.
State Rep. Jeff Crossman, a Parma Democrat, sat through several committee hearings on HB 249 and said he never knew Republicans weren’t going to bring it to a vote.
“It’s highly offensive to think people bared their souls and told their stories when Republicans never had the intention of passing that bill ... " he said. “If that was the intent, then all they did was string people along.”
Michigan and California have both passed legislation in recent years extending the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse.
Schyck said he’s in talks with other lawmakers to help get similar legislation passed in Ohio. But if he’s asked to give his testimony to lawmakers again, he has other plans in mind.
“I’m tired of telling my story,” Schyck said. “I want to go there and ask questions.”
- By Sheridan Hendrix and Anna Staver, The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)