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USC could not protect us from our abusive doctor

When we set foot on the campus of the University of Southern California during the first year orientation in the summer of 2013, we were repeatedly warned that we must be vigilant. We watched our drinks at fraternity parties for fear of being drugged and made sure that our drunken friends came home safe and sound. We bought pepper spray and grabbed our keys in case the blows became aggressive. When the worst happened, we supported each other through the emotional aftermath of sexual assault if we chose to report it or not. A place where we never imagined abuse, a place where we thought we would be safe, was our doctor's office.

We were wrong. On May 16, Los Angeles Times reported that for decades, USC had received numerous complaints about inappropriate behaviors from university gynecologist George Tyndall. However, Tyndall would continue working at the university's health center for almost 30 years, until USC finally forced his resignation, with compensation in June 2017. When we arrived on campus , we did not know about those complaints . We both became his patients, and then his victims as freshmen, and he would continue to treat both during our college years.

The Engemann Student Health Center had attempted to create a safety net to protect patients in the event of human failure. The victims could report Tyndall's misconduct, and many did so at the time of the abuse . During part of his stay at the USC, his appointments were attended by female medical staff, or chaperones, a measure designed to hold the doctor accountable during pelvic exams. But these measures simply gave the illusion of protection: Tyndall continued his abusive behavior in the presence of the chaperones, and when they complained in 2013, he did not. result in termination. The problem is not that USC lacked a safety net; is that he knowingly kept defective.

The problem is not that USC lacked a safety net; is that he knowingly kept defective.

When an institution fails this horribly, the repair seems even more daunting than if there were no safety net. How can a system that explains human fallibility be rehabilitated and still fail to respond? How can we go beyond simple gestures with patient safety to keep students safe?

First, USC needs to repair the trust that it broke with its students and alumni. This means a drastic revision of the system that allowed the victimization of its students. For years, the only USC consultant for women's health issues was a predator. There should be a greater focus on hiring female doctors, and USC should consult and hire female managers. It is no coincidence that an administration dominated by men – USC has never had a female president – has not prioritized women's health.

Following this catastrophe, President C.L. Max Nikias will leave but the change can not be stopped with him. Their elimination must be accompanied by a cultural shift towards accountability, starting with a public forum for victims to talk to administrators and, if possible, confront Tyndall. This public voice serves two purposes: to allow victims to start healing their wounds and for the USC administration to learn from the women who made victims. As the USC tries to reform from within, many victims are suing from outside the high and discouraging doors of the USC. It is essential that your complaints are handled with sensitivity. If USC resorts to the shame of the victims in its defense, it will decimate the trust of the past, present and future women of the USC.

At age 18, we become victims of a doctor on a campus, but we know that this atrocity is not limited to USC. Although it is tempting to see this isolated incident, USC is simply a case example of the struggle of American universities to provide adequate services for student health and their failure to address sufficiently sexual assault . The abuses suffered by us and our fellow Trojans are part of a systemic and cultural problem in which sexual assault and harassment are rampant and victims are silenced by the systems that seek to protect them. How USC will reform its culture will be symptomatic and a small informant on how this great social culture takes shape.

In the era of #MeToo, it is clear that abuse by those in power has infiltrated a multitude of industries to create a global spread of victims. Along with this movement to increase public awareness of these abuses there must be a social demand for tangible and sustainable mechanisms of accountability within the same systems that allowed abuse. This burden does not only fall on the victims. It is the collective burden of society. Without a cooperative effort to inspire internal organizational changes, society runs the risk of perpetuating a culture that accepts abuse and normalizes these atrocities. If systems do not hold predators accountable for their behavior, we can not rely on authority.

The story of Dr. Tyndall will live painfully on the memories of his victims, and unfortunately we can not guarantee that doctors will not abuse the trust of their patients as Tyndall abused ours. But this is our request to learn and act with agility and sensitivity to protect the safety of millions of university women to come. What happened at USC is a lesson for all of us. Let's start treating it as one.

Sarah Allen graduated from the University of Southern California in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Currently working as a legal assistant. Taara Prasad is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California and an incoming graduate student at the Yale School of Public Health.

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