How to support victims of domestic abuse
“You have such a beautiful face. You should be a model,” he said as he was performing my pelvic exam. It felt like an eternity, and I hated every second.
He sat me up and asked me point blank if I had ever had sex. When I responded with a negative, he proceeded to go into explicit, unsolicited detail about the process: what positions would be best, what kind of foreplay, noting that proper lubrication was key. And, by the way, he had spent a lot of time in Asia and particularly loved Southeast Asian culture.
I was 17.
I had never seen a gynecologist before my appointment with Dr. George Tyndall. Tyndall, who worked at USC’s student health center for about three decades, has now been accused of misconduct by hundreds of women. He was charged by authorities in June for sexually assaulting 16 women.
Despite my inexperience at the time, I knew enough to be uneasy – to feel that hair-raising internal red flag ingrained and trained into all women from our youth. I left the appointment with three months’ worth of birth control pills and prayed that I’d never have to be alone in a room with him again.
Now, more than 15 years later, I’m a resident physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. For me, keeping women safe has been my life’s goal and is now part of my job. So when I heard about Assembly Bill 1030, which aims to provide mandatory informational pamphlets to women who may undergo pelvic exams, I was initially overjoyed. I believe women should be empowered with all the resources that keep them informed. However, one part of the bill troubled me: It requires a signature upon receipt of the pamphlet.
As a physician, I have little idea what a patient signs at the front desk, nor does it impact how I care for her. It does not change my behavior, my exam, my recommendations or my demeanor. To think that Dr. Tyndall would have been cowed by knowing his patients had signed for receipt of a pamphlet detailing the components of a pelvic exam is laughable
So if the physician is not impacted by this signature requirement, who is?
I know how difficult it is for survivors to come forward. The doubt, the shame and the fear are overwhelming – and often debilitating. I have heard countless stories from women, stories of abandonment, stories of abuse and assault and violation perpetrated by people they most trusted. And the one phrase I hear most commonly: “It was my fault.” This is always followed by a slew of reasons: “I should have been paying attention.” “I should have talked to somebody.” “I shouldn’t have drank so much.”
Requiring a signature upon receipt of this pamphlet would add another reason to a litany of reasons why a woman might blame herself and, therefore, fear coming forward: “I didn’t read the pamphlet, but it still happened. I should have read it.”
“I read the pamphlet, and I didn’t stop it. It was my fault.”
I see patients who refuse to sign up for government insurance under Medi-Cal to cover curative surgery for their invasive cancer because they fear deportation. My patients are often illiterate or speak little to no English. These are not women who would easily come forward if they were abused by their physician, and even less likely to do so if they feel they have given up their rights to come forward by signing a document. These are the women for whom I fear most.
AB 1030 is deeply flawed in its current iteration, and its authors are not adequately addressing the concerns of women and their providers. It is imperative that the signature requirement of this bill be removed. We cannot continue to place responsibility on survivors.