Time is precious for USC’s sexual assault survivors

An entrance to the University of Southern California. (Photo: Ganna Tokolova, via Shutterstock)

I will forever remember the day I arrived at the University of Southern California. Walking on campus, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride being a part of the Trojan family. Sadly, the university that promised me an unparalleled education, infinite networking opportunities, and support outside of the classroom ultimately betrayed me and thousands of other women over the span of nearly thirty years.

More than 700 sexual assault survivors from all walks of life have come forward to tell the truth. There are likely thousands more of us. We all went to the USC Student Health Center to seek treatment for common ailments, but instead left with emotional scars that will last a lifetime.

I often ask myself if there will ever be a point in my life that I don’t think about this tragedy daily.

For me, what should have been a routine birth-control consultation quickly turned into a coerced pelvic exam that continues to shadow me to this day. Devastatingly, this is not just my reality, but the reality of thousands of Women of Troy. We were taught to trust authority figures. We believed Dr. George Tyndall – for almost three decades the health center’s only OB-GYN – would do everything in his power to help us.

At the time, I did believe and trust that he provided me with proper medical treatment because he was a USC doctor. But his actions in the exam room were anything but helpful. He violated our trust and the law.

Then in May of 2018 we learned from the front page of the Los Angeles Times that our alma mater knew about his behavior for years, and knowingly exposed as many as 17,000 of us to an accused serial sexual predator in the guise of a gynecologist.

I often ask myself if there will ever be a point in my life that I don’t think about this tragedy daily. When I don’t have to picture Tyndall’s strange facial expressions as he spent too long examining me while I lay fully exposed with my feet up in stirrups. When I don’t have to hear his voice prying about my personal sexual encounters for his own pleasure. When I don’t have to wipe away the tears that continue to fall from my eyes and the eyes of family and friends after telling them I was sexually abused. I wonder if there will be any solace for any of the survivors who endured the same things or even worse.

It is important that we be allowed to seek accountability for the wrongdoings of George Tyndall and the leaders at USC who for years and years slighted complaints from students, nurses, and other medical assistants about his inappropriate behavior. Our pursuit of justice takes form in a choice: Some of us wish to join the federal class action lawsuit proposed by USC, others of us wish to pursue an individual case in California civil court.

But it isn’t that simple. In California, the choice of state civil court may be barred because the statute of limitations when we attended USC gave survivors as little as two years to file a civil case involving sexual harassment or assault. Many of us face being blocked from taking legal action to hold USC and Tyndall accountable.

Assembly Bill 1510, authored by Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes, gives that choice – and restores the voices of survivors who have been silenced for 30 years. The bill will allow us a one-year window to seek individual cases in California civil court against Tyndall and USC if we wish.

After the tragedy that has negatively impacted our lives both physically and mentally, we should have the right to decide which avenue of justice to pursue. The recent arrest of George Tyndall on criminal charges brings some solace for the survivors. But having our individual stories heard in civil court will shed more light on the actions over the decades of both the doctor and the university, helping to prevent such travesties from occurring ever again.

USC and their hired lobbyists want us to believe that AB 1510 will threaten the proposed class action lawsuit and undercut those survivors who wish to be a part of it. This is blatantly untrue. Assemblymember Reyes’s bill simply allows the option for survivors who are barred by the statute of limitations to pursue cases individually should they wish to do so.

As survivors, we understand there is no “one way” to heal. We respect the choices of those who decide to remain Jane Does, those who want to participate in the federal class-action lawsuit, and those who would prefer to have their cases heard in a state civil court. The goal is the same: to help survivors gain justice so we can move forward with our lives and leave the shame, embarrassment, and hurt behind.

We hope legislators understand the importance of giving us this choice.

Editor’s Note: Sadie Retana graduated from USC in 2015 with a B.A. in Communications and minor in Marketing. She is now an events specialist at a software company based in Santa Monica. 


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