This story was reported by the Beacon Project, a student journalism initiative supported by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to report on USC. It is independent of the university’s administration. Mark Schoofs, one of the project’s founders, is also an adviser to BuzzFeed News.
A former graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, alleges that Dennis Kelly — the doctor accused of sexual abuse by 48 patients at the University of Southern California — gave him two invasive and inappropriate rectal exams in the 1990s. The former student, Quentin Lee, described his two appointments with Dr. Kelly as “the two most unpleasant medical experiences I’ve had.”
This is the first public allegation of sexual misconduct against Kelly during his years working in the campus health center at UCLA. At USC, 48 current and former students, all of whom are gay or bisexual men, said Kelly gave them intrusive rectal probes or fondled their genitals during the almost two decades before his resignation in 2018.
Kelly’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment about the new allegation. In the past, Kelly has told the Beacon Project, “This is all very traumatic to me.” He told the Los Angeles Times that he treated his USC patients appropriately, saying, “I know I did it all professionally and without any other motive.”
Kelly joined UCLA in 1980. In 2002, he stopped working there, signing a confidential settlement that paid him $68,320 and barred him from seeking employment at any University of California campus. In a statement, UCLA said the settlement was “unrelated to allegations of sexual misconduct.”
The same statement called Lee’s account “disturbing” and said that “the university is reviewing what he describes occurred.” It continued, “UCLA has very limited records, including no clinical complaints, from Dr. Dennis Kelly’s tenure at the UCLA student health center.”
Lee began his studies at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television in the fall of 1993 and he said he saw Kelly the following year.
Lee, who said he was about 23 years old at the time of his first visit, recalled that he made his appointment at the UCLA student health center for “a cold or flu or something.”
Kelly, he said, “insisted” on giving him a rectal examination. Lee said he asked if that was necessary.
“I definitely thought it was strange,” Lee, now 48, said in an interview.
He said Kelly told him to undress, but did not look away when Lee did so. Then, he said, Kelly told him to lean over the examination table, with his feet on the ground. Lee said Kelly inserted a gloved finger into his rectum, “pressing around” for several minutes. The exam “wasn’t brief” and made Lee feel “uncomfortable,” he said.
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Lee said Kelly was silent throughout the exam. A doctor’s priority, experts say, should be the comfort of the patient, explaining each step of the procedure.
Shortly after the exam, Lee said, he told a friend who was in medical school. The friend said the doctor probably meant well.
That friend, who requested anonymity because of his line of work, confirmed his friendship with Lee. But he said he could not recall the conversation Lee described.
Part of Lee’s allegation echoes those of the 48 patients from USC. In strikingly similar accounts, most of those men have described in court documents and in interviews how Kelly would tell them to undress and would not leave the room or look away while they did so. Then he would tell them to get on the table on their hands and knees — not to lean over it, as in Lee’s account. Almost always in silence, they said, Kelly would examine them. Then, without warning, he would insert his fingers or a device into their rectum, keeping it in place for up to a few minutes.
Fifty men have filed suit, accusing Kelly of “sexual battery,” “gender violence,” and “sexual harassment.” Forty-five of the plaintiffs allege that Kelly gave them inappropriate rectal exams. Twenty-three said he gave them prolonged genital exams that made them feel anything from “distressed” to “violated.” In their lawsuits, the men accuse USC of not doing enough to protect them, both through negligence and by concealing claims of sexual abuse and harassment. No criminal charges have been filed.
Officials at USC said they could not discuss specifics due to the litigation but said in a statement, “The university is committed to providing all patients, students, faculty and staff with a culture of respect and support.”
Many of the USC patients said that Kelly asked inappropriate questions, often using vulgar language, that seemed to have no medical purpose: Where did they have sex? Did they watch porn? What dating apps did they use? What race were their partners? And, in one case, what were their partners’ names? Lee said that didn’t happen to him.
Kelly has defended his practice, telling the Los Angeles Times that he looked away or exited the room when his patients undressed, and that it was standard for a doctor to take a rectal swab while simultaneously checking for anal warts. Public records show that while Kelly was at UCLA, he reviewed multiple guidelines for how the student health center should handle various diseases. In 1983, he cowrote the guidelines for how to test for prostatitis, an infection of the prostate gland.
After his first visit with Kelly, Lee said, he saw the doctor a second time a couple years later — he thinks it was 1996 — after getting sick again. He said he remembers a receptionist telling him he would be seeing Kelly. Lee said he asked if it would be possible to see another doctor.
The receptionist told him Kelly was the only physician available, Lee said. When he entered Kelly’s office, he said, he was surprised to see another student in the room, a fellow member of Mahu, a campus support group for LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islanders.
Lee said Kelly asked if the man — whom Lee believes was an assistant or intern — could stay to observe. Lee said he replied that he would not be comfortable, and Kelly eventually sent the man outside, but pressed Lee for a reason.
After that, Lee said, Kelly again insisted on giving him a rectal examination, explaining that it was necessary given how much time had passed since the last exam.
The second exam was “uncomfortable,” as the first had been, Lee said. He did not report the experience to UCLA, he said, but he stopped visiting the campus health center.
Lee’s boyfriend at the time, Steven Pranoto, said Lee told him about that second appointment, including the rectal probe and the other student in the room. “I was a little shocked,” he said in a recent interview.
But Lee said that since then he had “repressed” the memory of the exam, recalling it only last week, when he heard about Kelly’s accusers on the radio while driving his son to preschool.
“It was the ’90s, before #MeToo,” Lee said. “I was thinking that I was just alone.”
Since last week, Lee said, he has had insomnia and has written about his experience with Kelly a few times, including in a blog post he published on Tuesday. “By writing this, I hope to integrate my traumatic experience back into my narrative and feel better,” Lee wrote.
He said he wanted to share his account publicly, in part, to back up the allegations by the men who have come forward from USC. He said he would feel comfortable submitting his account to the court, but that he doesn’t want to sue UCLA, to which he feels “really indebted” for his education, or even Kelly himself. He said, “I just want him to be put to justice.”
Sasha Urban is a journalism major at the University of Southern California. He is originally from New York. Contact Sasha Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org.