USC paid $1.1B to survivors of sex abuse by campus gynecologist. One survivor says 'I would've liked an apology,' too
George Tyndall was a University of Southern California gynecologist when, in 2017, a nurse at the school's clinic reported him to USC's Sexual Violence Prevention Services. He was asked to resign. After an investigation, Tyndall, 74, was accused of sexually assaulting thousands of women who visited the clinic, and now, after pleading not guilty, he's awaiting trial on 35 counts of sexual misconduct.
But one survivor who won’t be following the trial is Sarah May, a former USC student who was sexually assaulted by Tyndall in 2004.
“I actually have a repulsion to his face,” May tells Yahoo Life. “And if I were following the trial, you'd see images and pictures. I would like to find out what ends up happening to him, but I'm not gonna follow it.”
In her book, To the Shadows, May shares how the sexual assault impacted her life, and how she’s healed from the trauma. "This book is not just for people healing, it's for people supporting healers. I think the more we understand about what goes on during the healing process, the better we are able to support the people we love."
Back in 2004, May dreamed of working in the film industry. She had already graduated from film school in Toronto and was going for her masters in screenwriting from USC, where she made a gynecological appointment with Tyndall.
“When I went in, he proceeded to ignore what I had come in for and he assaulted me vaginally with no gloves on his hand,” May remembers. “I detailed the assault in my book. I felt it was important to do that because during the assault, it was the little things he was doing. And in the back of my mind, I was like, 'Something's not right here.'”
May reveals that she had also been sexually abused as a child, and the experience in Tyndall's office triggered feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth.
“I remember touching the doorknob after I'd gotten dressed, and I did not want to open that door. I didn't want anyone to see me. I felt like garbage, and that was really difficult for me, because I feel like I had already been fighting my entire life to get out of that belief because of what happened to me as a kid," says May.
“Then that happens again and it's like, this is who I am. My body is for other people, it's not my own. This is my worth."
In 2010, May came forward with her story and made a formal complaint to USC. She made the choice to speak out six years later because she was haunted by Tyndall’s behavior on the day of her assault. “He seemed so comfortable doing it, and in the back of my mind, I was like, 'Maybe he's doing this to other women,'” says May. The University, she says, ignored her case, and it was dismissed.
In 2015, Sarah went through what she calls a "nervous breakdown," when memories of her past assault as a child came rushing back. That's when she started therapy and the difficult journey of addressing her traumas. As Sarah focused on her healing, the case against Tyndall grew as more accusers came forward, leading to Tyndall's resignation. Shortly after, the Los Angeles Police Department began a criminal investigation into the allegations of abuse — and when Tyndall’s case emerged in the news, May knew that she had to speak out.
“Because I had done so much work healing and working with my trauma, I picked up the phone to call lawyers within five minutes of seeing the news. So that's the difference between being unhealed and healed — our ability to stand up for ourselves,” says May.
“About 20 of us were deposed, including myself. I think that was a lot of pressure because you're fighting on behalf of all these other victims and you want to do a good job. At the same time, you’re constantly rehashing the abuse,” says May.
In March 2021, more than 700 women who claimed they were sexually abused by George Tyndall received an $852 million settlement from USC. When combined with an earlier class-action settlement from 2019, the total reached $1.1 billion — the largest payout in education history.
May says that the settlement was important, but not enough.
“I would've liked an apology," she says. "No one apologized, and it's interesting, because they paid that amount of money, but couldn't take responsibility for what had happened."
The case against Tyndall is far from an isolated one, as other schools and large institutions have had to address predators in their ranks in recent years. In May, the University of California Los Angeles paid nearly $700 million to victims who were sexually abused by a campus gynecologist. Michigan State paid out a settlement of $500 million to victims of Larry Nassar, the convicted sex abuser and the former USA Gymnastics doctor. Hockey Canada has received backlash over how it has handled sexual abuse allegations, and the National Football League has been criticized for its lax punishment of Brown's player Deshaun Watson, who was suspended for just six games amid sexual misconduct allegations.
“Before me, people had complained," May points out about USC. "If they had listened to those complaints, I wouldn't have had to go through that. I think what this has highlighted for me is that these schools are a business. They're there to make money. They say they're there to educate and take care of their students, but they are not doing the due diligence, and they are going as far as enabling perpetrators under their watch.”
While she knows the abuse should have never happened in the first place, May finds some comfort in knowing that the truth is being exposed. She stands in solidarity with other survivors of sexual abuse, and encourages bodywork as a healthy option for processing emotional pain.
“I'm not a huge advocate for just basic talk therapy for trauma, because sometimes we don't even have the words for a trauma. So I'm really a fan of bodywork, such as somatic experiencing, that helps you release that trauma without needing the words," says May. “You really have to look at the pain and understand what it's doing to your body, where you're holding it in your body, and work with someone who is trauma-informed and understands how to help you move that trauma out of your body.”
Today, May is a communications specialist at a University in Saskatchewan, Canada, where she just bought a home. She's proud of where she is today.
“I want people to know," says May, "that … the pain of healing is worth it."
—Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove