By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - Two female college students said they were forced to endure almost weekly vaginal probes in front of classmates and instructors as part of a medical diagnostic sonography class at a Florida community college, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court.
The lawsuit by the women, identified as Jane Doe I and Jane Doe II, accuses Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, of violating their rights to free speech and to protection from unwarranted searches under the First and Fourth Amendments.
Using volunteers, including students, for medical sonography training is a nationally accepted practice, said Carol Traynor, spokeswoman for Valencia College in a statement on Monday.
The lawsuit filed last week contends that the women protested and were bullied into submission.
“Valencia’s established and widespread policy was to browbeat students who did not consent to those invasive probes and threaten Plaintiffs’ academic standing as well as their future careers until the students complied,” the lawsuit states.
The procedure in question involved a transvaginal ultrasound probe in which a technician inserts a lubricated probe to detect problems with fertility or other issues, according to the lawsuit which describes the probe as large and not recommended for females who have not had sexual intercourse.
The women say they submitted under duress to the probes, which at times required their bodies to be sexually stimulated by other students to facilitate insertion, according to the complaint filed by lawyer Christopher R. Dillingham II.
“Plaintiffs 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,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states that students in the Valencia program were able to practice on actual patients during clinics in hospital and had available anatomically correct dummies.
The complaint states that the clinical and laboratory coordinator initially told the students that the probes were voluntary. But when the women protested the probes, they were told that they could find a different school, and that they would be blacklisted from local hospital jobs and that their grades would be reduced, the complaint says.
Dillingham wrote in the complaint he had been unable to find another sonography program in which students practice vaginal probes on each other.
(Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Walsh)