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More California school sexual abuse victims speak up

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-07-08 22:48
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Daniella Mohazab, a master's student at the University of Southern California, listens as her attorney comments on the news of the arrest of George Tyndall, a gynecologist who was accused of sexual misconduct against hundreds of women, during a news conference in Los Angeles on June 26, 2019. [Photo/IC]

For almost a year, Mai Mizuno watched as multiple news outlets unveiled the sexual abuse allegations from hundreds of women against a doctor at the Univesity of Southern California.

But as days passed without Dr George Tyndall being charged, Mizuno began to lose hope that her abuser would ever be punished.

When she heard that Tyndall was arrested on June 26, Mizuno said she was overtaken by a complex sense of relief and a lingering feeling that she had been "erased" by the process, rather than empowered by it, she said.

"Every day for over a year, I had to accept the fact that my abuser faced no legal consequence for his action. It was hard to heal, when throughout this past year, I knew that my abuser was walking free on the other side of town. But what made it worse was slowly learning about the fact that USC knew about Tyndall's behavior long before I became a victim of his," she said.

"Yes, I'm relieved, I'm thankful, I'm happy, but why did it have to take so long?" Mizuno asked.

As the 72-year-old former campus gynecologist, accused of sexual misconduct against hundreds of USC students, continues to deny all wrongdoing, some of his former patients are making their voices heard.

Tyndall, who served as the school's only full-time campus gynecologist at the Engemann Student Health Center for 27 years, allegedly targeted Asian women, including many Chinese international students, who had limited experience with gynecological exams.

Last week, Los Angeles authorities charged Tyndall with 29 felony counts in the cases of 16 women who went to the campus health center for examinations and treatment from 2009 to 2016, authorities said.

Tyndall also was charged with 18 counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person and 11 counts of sexual battery. If convicted, he could face up to 53 years in state prison.

According to the criminal filing, an act of sexual penetration of an unconscious person occurs when the patient is unaware of the nature of the act, due to the perpetrator's fraudulent representation that it served a professional purpose, when it in fact it did not.

The allegations were by women who were between the ages of 17 and 29 when they saw Tyndall.

The Los Angeles Police Department also discovered photos of women and thousands of "home-made sex tapes that appeared to be made outside the United States", according to Captain William P. Hayes of the LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division, the unit handling the Tyndall investigation.

Tony Im, a public information officer for LAPD Media Relations, told China Daily on Wednesday that information about the evidence will not be released to the public due to the ongoing case against Tyndall.

"It's all going to be in for evidence for court," Im said.

Tyndall made his first court appearance on July 1 since his arrest and pleaded not guilty to charges from all 16 women.

Mizuno, who graduated in May from USC after majoring in international relations and philosophy, politics and law, was one of the 16 women whom the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office interviewed to charge Tyndall.

Then a 19-year-old freshman in 2016, Mizuno also was allegedly one of Tyndall's last victims before he was placed on administrative leave in June 2016. He left USC in 2017, reportedly with a financial payout after striking a confidential deal with university lawyers and administrators.

Even though she sought only consultation from the doctor for a birth-control prescription, Mizuno said that Tyndall subjected her to an invasive examination with no chaperon present, a fact she overlooked at the time due to her lack of experience with gynecologists.

"I totally rationalized his behavior and questioned how I felt, because I had never had a gynecological exam done before, so I didn't know what was normal," she said. "The power-imbalance between him, a well-credited doctor, and me, a freshman, led me to rationalize what he had done."

As a result, Mizuno kept her emotions bottled up until news stories about Tyndall's alleged sexual assaults broke. Tyndall took advantage of the fact that the Asian community is less likely to recognize harassment in a professional environment or lodge a complaint against a figure of authority, she said.

"What we've learned is that he preyed on cultural differences; the fact that this was the first time for many Asian students to have a gynecologist exam, they didn't know what to expect, and they also felt that because of his role as a doctor, they would do whatever he said. That's why many of the plaintiffs are Asian or (come from) non-white American cultural backgrounds," said lawyer Mike Arias, a managing partner at Arias Sanguinetti Wang & Torrijos LLP, a firm representing more than 160 of Tyndall's accusers.

One of Arias' clients, 48-year-old Sau Ying (Wanet) Chan, who originally came from Hong Kong, shared an experience similar to Mizuno's.

A former track and field athlete at USC, Chan was 23 when she encountered Tyndall, who was the first gynecologist she had seen at the time. She recalled how the doctor had been the only person present during the visit.

"I met him in his office; he was the only one who came into the room. I felt kind of weird, how come only doctor, without a nurse?" she said.

Chan said Tyndall acted "too aggressive", but due to her lack of gynecological experience, she brushed aside the discomfort.

Now that she's a mother, she has a deeper understanding and more experience with typical gynecological visits, Chan said, but at the time, she was too young to understand what was out of bounds with Tyndall's practice.

"I am sure he's definitely guilty, because we are not only one or two voices that came out; we have hundreds and hundreds of victims," Chan said.

Arias said he doesn't understand why it took a year for authorities to arrest Tyndall, especially when compared with a similar case involving the investigation, also in Los Angeles, of a UCLA gynecologist, whom authorities arrested within a month, he said.

"The explanation given to us was because they're allegations, and his claim that everything he did was within standard care. They wanted to make sure that they have a strong case, and they just have to gather information," Arias said.

"We were constantly asking the district attorney why it was taking so long, and they said they wanted to make sure that they have a strong case on the claims on their file. I also don't think those charges are the last charges we will hear against Tyndall," he added.

Following Tyndall's arrest last week, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey explained why the investigation was lengthy. She said the case was a complex one because of hundreds of accusers, some of whom were not easy to locate because they already had graduated or relocated elsewhere.

It also took time for prosecutors to establish a rapport and trust with the alleged victims of sexual assault, in addition to corroborating their stories through medical records and other materials, Lacey said.

"Finally, if you think about this case, it is unusual in that it involves a doctor who is trained to examine a woman's genitals," she said. Lacey also said that it was an involved process to find "an expert witness who will withstand cross-examinations, and who has impeccable credentials to be our witness, to say that the behavior that was exhibited was not the standard practice for a gynecologist, but whether (behavior) that involves someone who is sexually assaulting women", Lacey said.

Lacey said the current cases involving 16 women fall within the 10-year statute of limitations and they have all been corroborated.

However, some of the other cases might fall outside of the statute of limitations, and some accounts may lack sufficient evidence to support a criminal case filing.

It would be inaccurate to assume that cases involving other victims that were not filed might not be in the future, she added.

"You have my word that my office will not rest until justice is served in this case," Lacey said.

Nevertheless, some of the victims have chosen to take the matter into their own hands.

California Assembly Bill AB 1510, proposing legislation that would give victims of sexual assault at student health centers an additional year to file their civil claims, is making its way through the California Legislature.

The legislation passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee by a vote of 9-0 in April. It is currently being considered in the California Senate.

If passed, victims whose claims had expired prior to Jan 1, 2020, would have until Jan 1, 2021, to file a damage claim.

Both Chan and Mizuno are supporters of the proposed legislation. Mizuno said dealing with the Tyndall case made her rethink some of the stereotypes associated with Asian women.

"For so long, all I heard about my own identity was the stereotype about how Asian and Asian-American women are less likely to speak up, are too quiet, and are more inclined to keep their heads down and not say anything. Tyndall took advantage of that," she said.

"The fact that I've been hearing that all of my life makes me defiant; the fact that I was sexually abused because of this stereotype makes me defiant," Mizuno said. She hopes that, in continuing to speak up, she can help make it more comfortable for other Asian and Asian-American women to break the silence as well.

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