Bill in state Assembly forgets survivors in public universities

Illustration of hands holding a sign that reads "Equal access to justice" in front of Sather Gate
Samantha Patten/Staff

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have rightfully called out many sexual offenders who have otherwise been able to remain hidden for decades. Survivors are finally feeling empowered enough to name their abusers and demand justice. Momentum is building as legislators across the nation challenge laws regarding statutes of limitations and thus encourage victims to speak out as survivors and finally take their abusers to court. Unfortunately, some legislators don’t take their proposed legislation far enough.

The California State Assembly recently passed AB 1510, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Eloise Reyes that includes highly specific legislation meant to extend the statute of limitations for victims of former USC gynecologist George Tyndall. This bill would create an extended window for trial lawyers to file suits against USC — suits that would otherwise be time-barred by California’s statute of limitations. While I agree that it is important for survivors of Tyndall to seek justice, this specific legislation diminishes the struggles faced by survivors of other abusers by not granting them the same legal pathway.

Under current California law, anyone who intends to file suit against a public university must notify the university six months prior. Not only do they have to notify the university six months prior to filing a claim, the claim must be filed within six months of the actual incident. Many survivors aren’t able to register their feelings or gather the courage to come forward during this short time frame. For this reason, AB 1510 does nothing to protect student survivors at public schools who are already struggling to sort their emotions and are forced into silence.

As a former student-athlete, this legislation caught my attention because it is directed at many student-athletes who were treated by Tyndall at USC. AB 1510 only applies to “physicians” who treat patients in “student health centers.” Student-athletes are exposed not only to physicians, but also to physical therapists, personal trainers, coaches and coaching staffs, other students, professors and administrators who could all potentially be sources of sexual assault.

One such administrator who was on staff while I was an athlete at Cal was Mohamed Muqtar. His most recent position as assistant athletic director for student services put him in constant contact with student-athletes. He was fired in May 2018 after having been found by an internal investigation to have violated Cal’s sexual violence and harassment policy after 25 years of employment within the athletic department. Because of outdated statutes of limitations, some of Muqtar’s victims will never have the chance to bring their abuser to justice, simply because too much time has passed since the assaults.

A former doctor at UC Berkeley’s Tang Center was recently sentenced to five years of probation after pleading no contest to five felony counts of sexual exploitation by a doctor. This problem is clearly not unique to USC, so why is Assemblymember Reyes purposely excluding the wide array of other forms of abuse that survivors might have endured?

AB 1510 can do a lot of good for sexual abuse survivors, but only if it’s amended to protect all California students. A survivor’s opportunity to bring their abuser to justice should not be dependent on the university they attend or company they work for. Legislation that only offers this right to students and alumni of one private university in California is simply too narrow to be realistic. If Reyes is serious about providing justice for survivors and those who have abused them, she should rewrite the legislation and give voices to all Californians. I encourage our State Senators to offer a reprieve from statute of limitations laws statewide in order to ensure equal access to justice for all victims in California.

Ashley Macedo works for Jolyn. a women’s athletic swimwear company, is a mom to two young girls and graduated from UC Berkeley in 2004.