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Sexual harassment and assault

California university doctor denies sexual misconduct claims, but colleagues say he targeted Chinese students

The USC is a leading private research university: there are 45,500 students enrolled in the 2017-18 academic year, including about 5,400 from mainland China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 7:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 9:31pm

A gynecologist at a California university has denied claims that he sexually abused his patients over decades, specifically targeting the school’s growing population of Chinese students. The school has come under fire for allowing him to continue treating patients despite the allegations.

The case was brought to light by the Los Angeles Times, which published accounts from several current and former employees at the University of Southern California (USC) regarding George Tyndall’s behaviour toward his mostly adolescent patients. Colleagues told the Times that Tyndall appeared to prefer Chinese students, who often had a limited knowledge of the English language and American medical norms.

The Consulate General of China in Los Angeles expressed its deep concern over the report.

“We noticed the report and expressed our deep concern over the situation,” said a spokesperson. “We request USC to take serious step to investigate the issue and protect Chinese students from illegal violation.”

The USC is a leading private research university. There are 45,500 students enrolled in the 2017-18 academic year, including about 5,400 from mainland China. 

The Los Angeles Times reported the misconduct dated back to the 1990s, with Tyndall accused of taking photographs of patients’ genitals, supposedly for medical reasons, touching patients inappropriately during pelvic exams and making sexual and racially discriminatory comments about patients and their bodies.

Tyndall, who could not be reached for comment, has denied wrongdoing and said his exams were appropriate and thorough.

When Chelsea Wu walked into Dr George Tyndall’s exam room at the USC student health clinic, she was 19 and, in her own words, “naive”, the Times reported. The sophomore had never seen a doctor without her parents by her side and had never been to a gynaecologist.

We request USC to take serious step to investigate the issue and protect Chinese students from illegal violation
Consulate General of China in Los Angeles 

“I was blindly trusting of doctors. I pretty much followed whatever they say,” Wu recalled.

During the 2016 appointment, Tyndall asked prying questions about her sex life, showed prolonged interest in her Chinese heritage and made comments about the tone of her pelvic muscle as he examined her.

Wu said he told her he had a lot of Chinese patients who had come to him not knowing very much about sex. He once pulled out a map of China, solicited her opinion on the English translations on the map, and asked for more information about the country.

“It took 15 or 20 minutes, longer than my pelvic exam,” Wu said. “I didn’t understand why I was explaining this to my doctor, because it was totally unrelated to my health.”

Still, Wu shrugged off the experience until she read the Times’ article on Tuesday detailing how the university received years of reports about inappropriate behaviour by Tyndall before quietly forcing him out last summer.

“I thought it was normal. Being so young, I didn’t have a framework for what was acceptable,” said Wu, who received an undergraduate degree last year and will attend USC’s Gould School of Law in the fall.

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Some of the most serious allegations against Tyndall concern his use of fingers at the start of pelvic exams after voicing concern that the speculum might not fit. 

As revelations about Tyndall reverberated through the USC community, a generation of alumnae were grappling with the news that the physician who served as the campus clinic’s only full-time gynecologist for nearly 30 years is now accused of serial misconduct. Women who attended USC from the 1990s onwards found themselves reassessing appointments with Tyndall and often recoiling. The Times spoke to more than a dozen alumnae.

A lawyer who attended USC for her undergraduate and law degrees from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s said she saw Tyndall about three times a year while she studied there. She spoke on the condition of anonymity and said the physician, her first regular gynecologist, often made lewd remarks.

I was blindly trusting of doctors. I pretty much followed whatever they say
Chelsea Wu, student

During frequent breast exams, he commented on the attractiveness of her slender body, squeezed her nipples and compared her favourably to his wife, who was also Asian.

“He’d tell me, ‘You have nice full breasts,’” she recounted. “He’d say: ‘Not every Asian has nice big breasts.’”

Current graduate student Chia-An Wen said that during an appointment three years ago, Tyndall asked her how often she had anal and oral sex with her boyfriend.

“I felt my face heat up when he asked,” she recalled. “It weirded me out and I was confused why he was asking. I felt because he was a doctor I had to answer.”

USC President C.L. Max Nikias issued a public apology on Tuesday, noting that his two daughters attended the university and calling Tyndall’s conduct “a shameful betrayal of our values”.

The university said on Wednesday that Nikias first learned of the complaints against Tyndall last year, months after the doctor had resigned as part of a secret deal that included a financial payout.

Some students and alumnae dismissed Nikias’ apology, noting recent USC scandals involving the former medical school dean, who was using methamphetamine and other drugs, and other administrators.

The Los Angeles Times, Agence France-Presse and Xinhua