Florida's Valencia College sued over forced vaginal exams

Story highlights

  • Valencia College made students have transvaginal ultrasounds, suit says
  • Students who sued say they experienced discomfort and embarrassment
  • Suit says one defendant made sexually suggestive comments during a probing session

(CNN)Two college students say they were forced to submit to transvaginal probes as part of their classroom training to learn how to perform the medical procedure.

Barbara Ball is the program chair for the college's Medical Diagnostic Sonography Program.
Linda Shaheen is the  clinical and laboratory coordinator for the Medical Diagnostic Sonography
Program.
Maureen Bugnacki is named in the lawsuit as a  laboratory technician in the program.
The details are outlined in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Orlando against Valencia College and three instructors. It alleges that medical diagnostic students at the college were forced to submit to the examination of their sexual organs under threat of having their grades reduced or of being blacklisted by future employers. The three defendants named in the lawsuit, Maureen Bugnacki, Linda Shaheen and Barbara Ball, have not responded to CNN's requests for comment.
    Peer physical examination is an accepted practice in the medical field, but several recent reports cited by the U.S. National Library of Medicine mention a growing need for clear policies regarding peer physical examination at medical schools.
    The lawsuit claims that during orientation, the college "had a second year student ... (nicknamed the 'TransVag Queen') explained the Medical Diagnostic Sonography Program's faculty believed that students should undergo invasive transvaginal ultrasound procedures in order to become better sonography technicians."
    "Valencia positioned these transvaginal probes as voluntary, but its actual policy and practice was that they were not," according to the lawsuit.
    The suit also describes weekly probes for students in the program, saying they "endured these invasive probes without a modicum of privacy. Plaintiffs would disrobe in a restroom, drape themselves in towels, and traverse the sonography classroom in full view of instructors and other students."
    "A student would place a condom over the probe and then apply generous amounts of lubrication to the probe. In some cases, the student would have to sexually 'stimulate' plaintiffs in order to facilitate inserting the probe into plaintiffs' vaginas," the lawsuit alleges.
    The suit says the women "experienced discomfort and embarrassment each time they had to endure this forced probing of their sexual organs."
    In one instance, according to the lawsuit, one of the defendants, Barbara Ball, made inappropriate comments to a student who was undergoing a probe. "Defendant Ball's comments can only be described as bizarre during some of these forced probing sessions," the lawsuit states.
    "She allegedly approached one student ... during a probing session and stated (she) was 'sexy' and should be an 'escort girl' (prostitute)." The suit says Ball's behavior casts serious doubts upon her motivation for insisting upon the forced vaginal probing sessions. Barbara Ball joined Valencia College in 1998 and worked at nearby Arnold Palmer Hospital prior to then, according to the school's website.
    Attorney Chris Dillingham, who is representing the two women who filed the suit, said, "I filed the complaint in federal court because we are dealing with the government: Valencia State College. This is a constitutional federal rights claim. The vaginal probes and my client's right to refuse them without retribution -- their First and Fourth Amendment (right)s -- were violated."
    Dillingham said his clients have endured significant suffering because of the forced probes. "Although it was stated in orientation it was voluntary, it became increasingly clear it was not. This is a very expensive program, these are young women. ... I'm not a doctor but they have suffered significant psychological damage," Dillingham said.
    Carol Traynor, the public relations director for Valencia College, said the school has not been served with the lawsuit so would not be able to comment. However, with regard to Valencia's diagnostic medical sonography associate degree program, the college issued the following statement:
    "The use of volunteers -- including fellow students -- for medical sonography training is a nationally accepted practice. Valencia College's sonography program has upheld the highest standards with respect to ultrasound scanning for educational purposes, including voluntary participation and professional supervision by faculty in a controlled laboratory setting. Nonetheless, we continue to review this practice and others to ensure that they are effective and appropriate for the learning environment."