By Anna Hanuska
For almost three decades, the University of Southern California employed George Tyndall. As the university’s only full-time gynecologist, he saw tens of thousands of young women until his suspension in 2016, despite complaints beginning in the 1990s. In 2018, USC agreed to an over $200 million settlement for a federal class-action lawsuit from his former patients. This March, the college agreed to $852 million more, this time to end the lawsuits claiming that the school failed to respond properly to complaints against Tyndall. Thus, USC has agreed to over $1 billion in settlements relating to Tyndall’s abuse. In 2019, Tyndall was arrested on 29 counts of felony sexual assault and abuse, and 6 more have since been added. Despite the accusations of 710 women–that’s quite a lot–his attorney insists he will continue to plead not guilty when trial begins.
Due to the fact that he is male, Tyndall was accompanied by a female chaperone–a nurse or medical assistant–into most appointments. In fact, the chaperones were the first to make complaints. Most of his patients were young and had never been to a gynecologist before, so they didn’t know what to expect or what was appropriate for their appointments. He also treated lots of Chinese international students, and obviously women who are in a brand new country speaking a second language would not know what to expect. Beginning in the 1990s, chaperones were alarmed by the frequency with which he photographed patients’ genitals and brought the issue to the attention of his supervisors. Since such photographs can be for valid medical reasons, like research or consulting colleagues, patients might not have found any issue with it, but his chaperones were alarmed, so he agreed to stop.
Later, both patients and chaperones began to report inappropriate sexual comments and touching during exams. According to complaints, he would use his fingers during pelvic exams in a way that experts agree is unnecessary and serves no medical purpose. The only action that was taken was to prohibit Tyndall from locking his door during exams. Even though, according to the university’s summary of the investigation, “Several of the complaints were concerning enough that it is not clear today why the former health center director permitted Tyndall to remain in his position.”
Eventually, in 2016 a frustrated nurse reported Tyndall to USC’s rape crisis center, which resulted in his suspension. Following an internal investigation, Tyndall was allowed to quietly resign in 2017 with a payout. The clinic was not told the reasoning behind his resignation, nor did USC report him to the medical board. His misconduct was only made publicly known after a Los Angeles Times investigation in 2018.
Such an extensive scandal at a prestigious school like USC should encourage other schools to closely examine their own student health centers and amend any issues in their systems for reporting abuse. Women deserve to feel safe with their doctors, and universities should protect that right.