It’s been nearly six months since the Los Angeles Times published its initial investigation on Dr. George Tyndall, a former gynecologist at the University of Southern California’s Student Health Center who sexually abused and harassed his patients under the guise of medical treatment for 27 years, despite numerous complaints by students.
USC is hoping the $215 million settlement it tentatively agreed to last week — which could forestall any further investigation into the scale and scope of his abuse — will help it swiftly put this scandal in the rear-view mirror. But many of Tyndall’s victims, who nicknamed him “The Butcher” due to his rough and overly invasive examinations, are still demanding accountability and justice. Several plan to opt out of the class-action settlement in favor of a legal process that will, among other things, require a proper investigation.
There are currently more than 460 women suing Tyndall and USC, a private university with an endowment of more than $5 billion.
Ninety-three additional victims came forward last week, and, like the victims that spoke up before them, they painted a picture of a deranged, racist, and sexually aggressive predator who used his position as USC’s only full-time gynecologist for nearly three decades to terrorize young women who were sent to see him during some of the most vulnerable years of their lives.
In 1992, then 19-year-old Jane Doe 126 saw Tyndall for her first-ever gynecologist appointment, due to a bladder infection. According to lawsuits reviewed by ThinkProgress, he allegedly made her strip naked, told her she was “fit” and “well groomed,” then made her “bleed profusely” when he forced his ungloved fingers in her vagina and moved them around roughly. In 1999, Tyndall told Jane Doe 121, “you’re really tight. That’s why it hurts. You Asian girls all have very tight vaginas.” In 2010, Jane Doe 133, an international student from India, visited Tyndall when she was a graduate student. It was the first time she sought a gynecological appointing in the U.S. He groped her breasts and told her, “Your breasts are so good, like other Indians.” She sent two emails to the USC Student Health Center complaining about Tyndall’s abuse. She only received one reply: “We’ll look into it.”
Tyndall continued to work at USC until 2017, when the university allowed him to retire quietly and with pay, following an internal investigation that found evidence of misconduct.
“While we cannot change the past, it is my sincere hope that this timely settlement provides some measure of relief to those impacted and their families,” Rick Caruso, chairman of USC’s board of trustees, said in a letter to alumni announcing the $215 million settlement last week.
Since this story broke, the only person at USC to lose his job is C.S. Max Nikias, who resigned as president but currently remains a lifetime trustee at the school. He is helping to advise the search for a new president. The complete lack of accountability is why, to so many survivors, a $215 million settlement that only guarantees survivors $2,500 each feels more like evading responsibility than true accountability.
“[USC and its lawyers] think they look like good guys because they wrote a check, but it’s a disaster. If you’re in favor of keeping these kinds of abuses hidden and secret and away from the sunlight, then this is a very good deal for you,” Andy Rubenstein, a lawyer whose firm, D. Miller & Associates, is representing more than 100 of former Tyndall patients, told ThinkProgress.
Rubenstein and other lawyers who are representing Tyndall victims in state civil suits plan to press forward with their legal battles, and are hoping that judges won’t see this federal class-action settlement as the end of the road. Their biggest priority remains getting to the bottom of how this went on for nearly 30 years.
“My clients, to a woman, want institutional change, and if we don’t get to do an autopsy, how will we know where the disease was?” Rubenstein said. “We don’t know anything more now than we did back in May when this story broke, no depositions no questions answered, USC, their board and execs are probably high-fiving each other and saying, if this works, we’ve gotten away with one.”
Tyndall is still a free man, and through his lawyer, continues to proclaim his innocence. This spring, he talked with the Los Angeles Times, and, according to reporters, “he offered a theory that chaperones reported him because they had trouble reaching orgasm and were jealous of young patients with tighter pelvic muscles.”
He agreed to the suspension of this medical license at the end of August, and last month, the Medical Board of California charged Tyndall with negligence and sexual misconduct with several patients, meaning he faces the permanent loss of his medical license. There are still no criminal charges against him, though prosecutors have already presented 64 cases to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s sex crimes unit. USC is conducting an internal investigation commissioned by its trustees, but it is not an independent investigation.
That’s more than disappointing, because USC owes its students answers.
In 2001, while Tyndall was fondling Jane Doe 130’s breasts, he allegedly told her that Asians are “more feminine” and “the best wives.” In 2015, he allegedly told Jane Doe 138, “Your vagina is really small, like a virgin. Does your boyfriend put it in the right hole?” When Jane Doe 128 inquired to a nurse about the appropriateness of Tyndall’s actions about five years ago, the nurse said he was “just really friendly.”
Around 2016, he falsely diagnosed Jane Doe 144 with an STD so he could continue to see her and abuse her. In 2012, Jane Doe 105 went to visit Tyndall for a refill of her birth-control prescription. Tyndall made her undergo a pelvic exam in order to receive the refill, despite her protests. When she placed her feet in the stirrups, he allegedly “suddenly and without warning ripped [her] tampon out of her vagina and held it up in front of [her].” He proceeded to abuse her, like he did with previous patients. Jane Doe 105 says a USC-employed nurse was in the examination room the entire time.
Survivors of sexual abuse by former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar joined some Tyndall survivors at a press conference last week.
“I am asking USC, do it better this time. Do it better than (MSU) did. Treat these women like the family you promised them they were,” Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, told reporters. “Conduct an independent investigation and release the report so we know who knew what, when and were, and those who contributed to the abuse of these women are held accountable.”
CORRECTION: The post previously stated the Medical Board of California charged Tyndall with negligence and sexual misconduct this week. The charges were filed on September 26, 2018.