MIAMI - Two former college students are suing a Florida medical college, alleging they were forced to undergo frequent transvaginal probes during classroom training as part of their studies.
A federal lawsuit filed by the unnamed women in Orlando accuses Valencia College employees of ordering them to undergo the procedures or risk having their grades reduced.
It said entrants to the college's Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program were encouraged to submit to the procedures in order to become better sonographers.
"Valencia positioned these transvaginal probes as voluntary, but its actual policy and practice was that they were not," the lawsuit said.
"In fact, Valencia's established and widespread policy was to browbeat students who did not consent to those invasive probes and threaten plaintiff's academic standing as well as their future careers until the students complied."
Three defendants were named in the lawsuit -- Barbara Ball, the chair of the sonography programme, Linda Shaheen, the clinical laboratory coordinator and Maureen Bugnacki, the programme's lab technician.
In a statement, the school, while declining to comment specifically on the case, insisted that "the use of volunteers - including fellow students - for medical sonography training is a nationally accepted practice."
"Nonetheless, we continue to review this practice and others to ensure that they are effective and appropriate for the learning environment," it added.
The suit said the students bringing the case "endured these invasive probes nearly every week," even though Valencia had anatomically correct simulators specifically designed for students to practice sonography exams.
Students also had the opportunity to practice on actual patients in a medical setting at various central Florida hospitals.
"There was no rational basis or need for Valencia State College to force plaintiffs to endure these invasive probes of their reproductive organs," the suit alleged.
The lawsuit also alleged the students were subjected to sexually suggestive remarks by Ball during one probe.
"Defendant Ball's comments can only be described as bizarre during some of these forced probing sessions," the suit said.
"She allegedly approached one student... and stated (she) was 'sexy' and should be an 'escort girl' (prostitute). Defendants believe this type of behaviour casts serious doubts upon Ball's motivation for insisting upon these forced vaginal probing sessions."
The complaint says the probing sessions took place without a "modicum of privacy" often being made to cross the classroom in full view of instructors and other students.
In some cases, students were required to "sexually stimulate" the plaintiffs in order to facilitate inserting the probe, the suit alleged.
"Plaintiffs experienced discomfort and embarrassment each time they had to endure this forced probing of their sexual organs," it added.