Florida College And 3 Instructors Named In Students’ Lawsuit Over Forced Vaginal Exams
It’s fair to assume that when women enroll in Valencia College’s Medical Diagnostic Sonography Program, they are not expecting to become the forced subjects of sexually invasive procedures. There is no hint of that until after they complete the rigorous application and acceptance procedure and move on to orientation.
Two female former students of the program have filed a federal lawsuit, alleging violations of their civil rights. They claim that their 1st amendment right to free speech and their 14th amendment right of protection against unreasonable searches of their bodies were both violated.
The students were allegedly coerced into allowing their classmates to insert a probe into their vaginas on a weekly basis. They were first told at orientation, by a second-year student, that instructors “believed that students should undergo invasive transvaginal ultrasound procedures in order to become better sonography technicians.”
While participation was framed as voluntary during the orientation, in fact it was not. After the program began, the two women complained. Part of their concern was the fact that a male student was in the class and would participate in the probes. The response they got was that they could always quit and try to get into another program.
As the course progressed and weekly vaginal probes began, the students continued to voice their objections. The probes were conducted with no concern for privacy. After undressing in a restroom, the subjects had to cross the classroom covered only by towels and proceed to a sonogram station in full view of the classroom. The lawsuit describes the ensuing procedure thus:
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. Plaintiffs experienced discomfort and embarrassment each time they had to endure this forced probing of their sexual organs. [source, page 8]
Of the three instructors involved — Maureen Bugnacki, Linda Shaheen and Barbara Ball — Ball seemed to have an unhealthy interest in the procedure. The suit described Ball’s behavior:
“She allegedly approached one student, … , during a probing session and stated (she) was ‘sexy’ and should be an ‘escort girl”'(prostitute). Defendants believe this type of behavior casts serious doubts upon Ball’s motivation for insisting upon these forced vaginal probing sessions.” [source, page 7]
The students’ embarrassment was, of course, extreme. But college officials defended peer-to-peer exams as standard procedure in the field. Further complaints only escalated the harassment. The lawsuit further alleges:
“Defendants, together, retaliated against Plaintiffs by reducing Plaintiffs’ grades, threatening to blacklist Plaintiffs from local medical establishments so Plaintiffs could not obtain employment, and ultimately forcing Plaintiffs to resign from Valencia State College’s Medical Sonography Program and otherwise injure Plaintiffs.” [source, page 12]
To make the defilement even more horrific, it appears to have been totally unnecessary. The program not only has anatomically correct simulators for students to practice on, but also they were allowed to perform the procedure on actual patients in a medical setting, at Central Florida Hospital.
The women are asking for damages for their pain and suffering, as well as tuition reimbursement for their time at Valencia College. Beyond that however, the suit alleges concern about the program’s intentions in the future.
The college ended the practice of allowing students to probe each others’ reproductive organs once lawyers became involved. However, the suit alleges that the instructors “conspired to have students petition” the college for the procedure to be reinstated. It also expresses plaintiffs’ belief that it will be reinstated once the uproar has subsided.
Unless the court expressly forbids it, the same physical and emotional traumas could very well be inflicted on future students.
Feature photo, Valencia College Facebook page.