We span several generations and just about every race, color and creed – black and brown, Asian and Anglo, Gen X and millennial. Superficial differences aside, we share a common background. We are women of Troy, graduates of the University of Southern California.
And for far too long we shared a dark secret.
Between the late 1980s and into the 21st Century, thousands of us came under the care of Dr. George Tyndall at the USC student health center. We arrived seeking treatment for common afflictions, be it a cold or the flu, food poisoning or a blinding headache. Instead of a studied diagnosis and appropriate care, we were subjected to a full pelvic exam by Tyndall, the health center’s only gynecologist.
For many of us, the experience marked our first encounter with an OB-GYN, and we had no idea what to expect. We were so young. We had been taught to respect authority figures, to trust doctors. Their job is to heal, not do harm, isn’t it?
But we sensed something wasn’t right. He used ungloved hands. He took pictures of us naked. He made crude remarks about our bodies and spent far too long examining what didn’t ail us, and virtually no time addressing the issues that brought us in for medical help.
Those of us who complained were ignored, but most of us didn’t say a word, not even to close friends. We kept it as our secret, along with the unease that survived as a vestige of an encounter that was nothing less than sexual assault.
Today we know the truth behind our shared secret. There are thousands upon thousands of us, patients who suffered the abuse of Dr. George Tyndall. We are sisters in survival of sexual assault.
Our stories have come out now, thanks to a brave whistleblower at the health center who didn’t let campus politics stand in the way of doing the right thing, and thanks as well to the fortitude of the Los Angeles Times’ investigative reporters who broke the story wide open.
We hope to hold not only Tyndall accountable, but also leaders at USC, who for decades ignored complaints from students, nurses and others about the doctor’s behavior in the exam room. But our path to justice has been blocked.
In California civil court, we are faced with antiquated deadlines and a statute of limitations law that threatens to extinguish our rights and our voices. Under state law, survivors of sexual assault typically have just one year to file a civil case involving sexual harassment or assault. For many survivors of Tyndall’s practices, our cases date back decades.
While our experiences are deeply personal, our shared goal goes beyond what Tyndall did to our health and happiness. We seek to protect future victims by effecting change at USC and beyond, and we believe our cases, if allowed to proceed, will shine a light on a system that is broken.
And broken it is, because for almost 30 years, Tyndall’s pattern of abuse continued. Nurses repeatedly sought to report his horrendous conduct but were met with inaction by college administrators and eventually a full blown cover-up.
We have hope that change is coming. Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes, Democrat from Grand Terrace, is pressing ahead with Assembly Bill 1510, to give Tyndall’s survivors a one-year window to proceed with cases that risk being barred by the statute of limitations. It faces a key committee vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee today.
USC continues to demonstrate an institutional inability to correct its course. The university and its supporters seem more intent on paying Sacramento lobbyists, creating Astroturf PR campaigns and putting out propaganda than fully accepting institutional responsibility.
Along the way, its representatives have suggested our efforts to file individual cases in state court will undermine a federal class-action settlement that USC is fighting to preserve. That’s nonsense.
AB 1510 merely gives Tyndall survivors a choice: Join the federal class action, or fight it out alone in state civil court, a venue that many of us believe will more fully expose Tyndall and hold him and USC accountable.
As survivors, we are fighting to put the past and our shared secret behind us and move forward with our lives. We hope California legislators will understand, and not suppress our individual voices and rights. We hope they will do the right thing.