As a recent grad and journalism student, headlines, alerts and articles detailing hyperbolic evils of the world flash by my eyes on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis. As a person living in the 24-hour news cycle of today, tweets, Facebook shares, texts from friends and family of “did you hear this” and “did you hear that” flood my phone so frequently that the impact of something as jarring and shocking as another porn star claiming to have had sexual affairs with the president, another nuclear threat by a far-off country and another prominent male figure being accused of sexual assault has been reduced to that of almost petty locker-room gossip.
Sad but true, the same held for me in the instance where USC gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall was accused, again, of sexual misconduct toward his female patients in my hometown of Los Angeles.
“Did you hear about that?”
“YES it’s literally crazy?? What a gross psychopath, like who does that”
“Honestly what’s wrong with the world…side note let’s get Sugarfish in 30??”
Of course, having been a journalism student at George Washington University in D.C., I felt much closer to the stories than many of my other friends, but still emotionally distant enough to have a momentary reaction before letting my temporary craving for an albacore roll take over. In that sense I’m really lucky, obviously, to feel so far from the intimate tragedies that have ripped apart the hearts and lives of so many people. I’ve been lucky to be only a sympathizer, a distant observer of the horrendous acts of school shootings, deadly protests, claims of sexual assault; I’ve been lucky to be someone who empathizes and then has the opportunity, the (at this point) blessing of being able to forget what to me is just a headline in another day's news story, before letting the mind-numbingly mundane “ordeals” of my loser daily life take over.
However, it hit a little closer to home the second I came back to L.A. for the summer. Former roommate, best friend, recent USC grad Daniella Mohazab texted me the day after I landed: “omg basically there’s this huge case right now about a gynecologist that was fired from USC….” My reaction was typical and underwhelming; clearly stewing in a bubbling pot of my own melodramatic post-grad depression was more important than some creep accused of sticking his fingers up the vaginas of girls my age, so I responded with a classic, “that’s crazy wtf.”
A few hours later I attempted to be a better friend and engage in a real human conversation with Daniella about this guy — turns out she went to see him in April 2016 as a college sophomore. Not knowing, then, the proper procedure of gynecologists, not realizing what he did and said was wrong, trusting the man who worked for an institution she loved so much (a notion unfamiliar to me and my school pride–devoid GW classmates), she told me about her interaction with a man whose name and face is splashed across the pages of media outlets all over the country.
Going in for an STD test and to talk about her already prescribed medication, Daniella expected a standard procedure. Being 19 at the time, she didn’t have that much experience with gynecologists and had full faith that USC’s in-house professionals would be up to par. However, as she soon realized, “Just because an institution is the best at one thing, doesn’t mean it’s the best at everything.”
Almost immediately after entering Tyndall’s office, Daniella said she was bombarded by disturbing comments that were sexual in nature. Tyndall called her “pretty,” she said, and after asking about her ethnic background, mentioned that Filipinas are the “most giving” and “gentle” people, as well as “good in bed” and “devoted partners” who don’t sleep with many people in their lifetimes. He asked about her sexual history as well as “other intimate sexual” questions, she said, and after she responded, he replied with a “creepy” smile and said, “I guess that’s because you’re mixed.”
The two then went to a private, unmonitored room for Daniella’s STD screening, where she said Tyndall informed her that her previous gynecologist had administered the exam incorrectly.
“The year before … [my previous gynecologist] provided me the swab and asked me to insert it myself. She then closed the curtain in the room to provide me with privacy,” Daniella recounted at a press conference on Tuesday, May 22. “Dr. Tyndall told me to undress from the bottom down, and he stood there watching while I did so and smiled. He then instructed me to lie on the examining table … without a glove, he put his two fingers in me and felt around. He said, ‘I think we better use some lube’ with a snide look on his face.”
Amid all the complaints and allegations filed against Tyndall (roughly 300 to date, according to the Daily Beast), he denies having “any sexual urges” toward patients and describes his examinations as thorough and appropriate, according to the Los Angeles Times. Tyndall told the newspaper his use of fingers had “a legitimate medical purpose” and claimed that some of his comments to patients were misinterpreted. However, more than 3,900 people, as of May 24, failed to agree with Tyndall, signing a petition asking for his resignation. So far seven women, including Daniella, have decided to pursue legal action against both Tyndall and USC.
In a private interview the night before the conference, Daniella spoke about the difficulties of feeling violated but not knowing why until years later, something senior partner Michael Maroko at Allred, Maroko & Goldberg (the firm representing Daniella’s case), touched on at Tuesday’s press conference. He elaborated upon the complexity of a case that occurred so long ago, with victims who didn’t know they were victims until the Los Angeles Times exposé was published this spring.
“I felt uncomfortable and I stopped seeing doctors for a while … but I didn’t think he did anything technically wrong, besides the fact that he was too personal,” Daniella said. “I didn’t realize how wrong everything was until the story came out. … It’s still hitting me. I’m remembering things every day.”
Repulsed, concerned, but sadly not very shocked, I asked Daniella what she was going to do. Immediately, she told me she had already contacted notable women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, who decided to take on her case. “Recently a number of young women contacted me about what they alleged was inappropriate sexual harassment and misconduct by Dr. George Tyndall, a gynecologist who was assigned to examine and treat them when they were students at the University of Southern California,” Allred said. “Sometimes the word of a woman, particularly a young woman, isn’t afforded the value that it should be. … It is sad that sometimes it takes lawsuits, and really good investigative journalism as well, to force an institution to do what it should’ve done earlier.”
In a matter of days, Daniella’s world changed. Anxieties about wanting to get “L.A. summer skinny” and planning how to efficiently pregame our upcoming Taylor Swift concert vanished in a puff of smoke, as worries about pursuing legal action against a school that she loved, dealing with a high-profile lawyer, revealing her decision to friends and family and contemplating the realities of having a press conference targeting USC came crashing down on her. I was interacting with and experiencing the multilayered complexities of something I had previously just read about in alerts on my phone or briefly reported on from afar.
The news became more than news, it became life, and it turned into something I saw impacting and changing someone I knew and cared about. “It was one doctor’s visit … that hour has affected my life and my future. By choosing to take legal action, I recognize that this story is no longer private,” Daniella said. “It isn’t fair that he has that power … but that’s just the way it is.”
Daniella also addressed the incident and how speaking up is much more complicated than just, well, speaking up. “I felt violated and uncomfortable when it happened, but I’m not the type of person to just tell,” she said. “There are so many creepy things that happen every day and it’s hard to know when something is wrong enough to speak up.”
The night before the press conference, I hung out with Daniella in my room, sprawled across my bed, discussing what was to come the next morning, week, month. A confident, loud and self-assured (sometimes excessively so) girl as long as I’ve known her, she began to doubt her decision to speak out, hire a lawyer and publicly attack the way USC handled this issue with Tyndall that, according to reports, had been occurring since the 1990s, before she was even born. It was hard to watch the right decision be so heavily questioned because of potential backlash from society, backlash over simply standing up for what’s right and demanding justice. But this is oftentimes the reality when it comes to cases like this, according to Allred.
Tuesday morning rolled around and Daniella and I headed to breakfast, fueling up on coffee and carbs for the big day. She was nervous but determined, even joking about potentially tripping and becoming a YouTube sensation; but behind every light joke and nonchalant flip of her hair was an apprehension, a worry in her eyes of how life would be different after going public with this story. Her boyfriend of two years was there, strong and supportive, and he was driving, holding her hand, gushing words of unwavering support and promises of huge Shake Shack milkshakes after it was all over. But every time Daniella would step away he would ask me in concerned, tentative tones, “She’s going to be OK, right?”
We get to Allred’s firm, the location of the conference, and Daniella leaves us to privately go over her notes as I sit with the press. As a former production intern, I’m used to press conferences — serious D.C. pressers with high-ranking politicians, huge national news vans and high stakes. I’m used to helping set up the camera and lights, transcribing notes, joking around with the other producers and impatiently waiting for the conference to be over so that I can grab lunch, take off my annoying blazer and engage in low-level gossip.
But this was different. For one thing, the room was smaller and the news vans local, but as I sat nervously in the crowd, hands weirdly pulsating, I realized that this conference mattered to me in a way that none had before. And when Daniella came out and spoke, she wasn’t the girl I had known for four years; she wasn’t my roommate who danced to and memorized every Justin Bieber song, the girl who named her cats Fat Daddy and Care Bear or the girl who would go to Mastro’s in sweatpants at 11 p.m. just to order butter cake. She was a vulnerable girl who had suffered something sad and painful, and I, all of a sudden, felt like I didn’t really know my best friend.
News is only news, only another headline and another article, until a tragedy takes away a part of a person you know and love, rendering them almost unrecognizable. I’m glad I got to be a part of Daniella’s journey. Realizing that a story is more than just a useless ping on a phone is important, and it’s sad that the only way I fully felt that was to be closer to the pain and hurt than I had ever been: watching Daniella struggle in telling her grandmother about the sensitive news at dinner, seeing her refresh the YouTube page that unveiled scathing comments from viewers and listening to her question how this was going to change her life made me realize how ignorant I’ve been to the realities of life for other people.
Maybe this kind of thinking, this kind of self-absorbed approach to life, is why accusations against Tyndall since the ’90s haven’t been taken seriously until now: Everything is a cover story, a statistic, a talking point, until it’s not and it affects you or someone you know. If anything, this whole experience highlights the importance of taking action and ignoring our tendency of waiting until it’s too late.
Maybe we need to stop blaming politics, blaming administrations and blaming the rest of the world for being the reason we somehow turned into a society that pushes people to risk being hurt over being honest and judged or, even worse, ignored. “It’s hard to be someone small and expect to be heard … but this is something that could have been stopped long before I stepped foot at USC,” Daniella said. “[W]e should follow the USC motto for more than sports — we should ‘Fight On’ for ourselves and for each other, because it could just be you next time.”
Maybe if whisperings about a perverse old gynecologist had been taken seriously by the student body, USC and the general population at large over 20 years, Daniella would have spent her Tuesday afternoon at a beach in that “L.A. summer skinny” bikini, drinking a mojito and dancing to Taylor Swift instead of exposing her private pain to the world.
But that wasn’t her reality, and maybe if we as members of a society all cared a little more, we could change the realities of others. Let’s try to care and work to change the wrongs of the world before it’s too late, and before our own sufferings end up as ignored pings on someone else's phone.
Mabel Kabani is an L.A. local and recently graduated journalism student from the George Washington University in D.C. She has been an intern at networks such as CNN, Sinclair, ABC News and BBC.