George Tyndall was a University of Southern California gynecologist when, in 2017, a nurse at the school’s clinic referred 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, is awaiting trial on 35 counts of sexual harassment.
But one survivor who won’t be attending the trial is Sarah May, a former USC student who was sexually assaulted by Tyndall in 2004.
“I really have a crush on his face,” May tells Yahoo Life. “And if I watched the trial, you would see pictures and pictures. I would like to know what will happen to him, but I will not follow it.’
In her book, To the Shadows, May shares how sexual assault affected her life and how she healed from the trauma. “This book isn’t just for people who heal, it’s for people who support healers. I think the more we understand what happens during the healing process, the better we can support the people we love.”
Back in 2004, May dreamed of working in film. She had already graduated from film school in Toronto and was on her way to getting her master’s in screenwriting from USC, where she made a gynecological appointment with Tyndall.
“When I walked in, he ignored what I had come for and attacked me vaginally with no gloves on his hand,” May recalled. “I detail the attack in my book. I felt it was important to do that because during the attack, it was the little things he did. And in the back of my mind, I was like, “Something’s not right here.”
May reveals that she was also sexually abused as a child, and the experience in Tyndall’s office triggered feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
“I remember touching the doorknob after I got dressed and I didn’t want to open that door. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I felt like garbage and that was really hard for me because I feel like I had already struggled my whole life to get out of that belief because of what happened to me as a child,” says May.
“Then it happens again and it’s like I’m who I am. My body is for other people, not mine. This is my value.”
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 attack. “He seemed so comfortable doing it, and in the back of my mind I was like, ‘Maybe he does this to other women,'” says May. The University, she says, ignored her case and was dismissed.
In 2015, Sarah went through what she calls a “nervous breakdown” when memories of her previous assault as a child came rushing back. Then she began treatment and the difficult journey of dealing with her injuries. As Sarah focused on her treatment, the case against Tyndall grew as more accusers came forward, leading to Tyndall’s resignation. Shortly thereafter, the Los Angeles Police Department launched a criminal investigation into the abuse allegations — and when Tyndall’s case hit the news, May knew she had to speak up.
“Because I had done so much work to heal and work through my trauma, I picked up the phone to call lawyers within five minutes of seeing the news. So that’s the difference between not being cured and being cured — our ability to defend ourselves,” says May.
“About 20 of us were deposed, including me. I think it 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 repeating the abuse,” says May.
In March 2021, more than 700 women who claimed they were sexually abused by George Tyndall were awarded $852 million in damages by USC. Combined with an earlier class action settlement from 2019, the total reached $1.1 billion — the largest payout in education history.
May says the settlement was important, but not enough.
“I’d like an apology,” he says. “No one has apologised, and it’s interesting, because they paid that amount, but they couldn’t take responsibility for what had happened.”
The case against Tyndall is far from isolated, as other schools and large institutions have had to deal with predators in their classrooms in recent years. In May, the University of California, Los Angeles paid nearly $700 million to victims who were sexually abused by a gynecologist on campus. The University of Michigan has paid a $500 million settlement to the victims of Larry Nassar, the convicted sex offender and former USA Gymnastics doctor. Hockey Canada has come under fire for its handling of sexual abuse allegations, and the National Football League has been criticized for its lax punishment of Browns player Deshaun Watson, who was suspended for just six games over sexual abuse allegations .
“Before me, people had complained,” May points out about USC. “If they had heard those complaints, I wouldn’t have had to go through it. I think what it has highlighted for me is that these schools are a business. They are there to make money. They say they are there to educate and take care of their students, but they don’t do due diligence and go so far as to allow perpetrators under their watch.”
While she knows that the abuse should never have happened in the first place, May finds some comfort in knowing that the truth is coming out. She stands in solidarity with other sexual abuse survivors and encourages physical labor as a healthy option for processing emotional pain.
“I’m not a big advocate of basic trauma talk therapy, because sometimes we don’t even have the words for a trauma. So, I’m really into bodywork, like the physical experience, that helps you release that trauma without the need for words,” says May. “You really have to look at the pain and understand what it’s doing to your body. you hold 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 major at a University in Saskatchewan, Canada, where she just bought a house. She is proud of where she is today.
“I want people to know,” says May, “that … the pain of treatment is worth it.”
—Production video Jacquie Cosgrove