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John Whitehead's Commentary

Forced Genital Exams of Children--Nothing Strange or Unusual Here?

John Whitehead
Strangers entered two different elementary schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma on two separate occasions. They forcibly removed the clothes from numerous children between the ages of three and five--over their cries of fear and desperate attempts to resist--and proceeded to probe the genitals of the now-nude children.

Most schools now have elaborate procedures to screen and account for visitors. However, this sounds like a situation where school safety precautions failed horribly. What happened to these children is much worse than mere negligence because authorities at both schools actually arranged for and supported these outrageous events.

The strangers who entered the elementary schools were LPN nurses assigned to the schools to take blood samples and perform genital exams on behalf of the Head Start program that is associated with the schools. The great majority of the children were of African-American or Hispanic descent. Ostensibly, the nurses were looking for signs of child abuse or other health problems among the youngsters.

The nurses conducted their exams over the protests of the children, with some crying for their mothers. Still others, intimidated and filled with fear, even attempted to resist physically. Their parents did not know that the exams were scheduled and had not given their consent. So there was no way they could have known the terror their children were enduring during their school day.

The nurses stretched the children out on a floor mat, on top of a school desk, and forcibly removed their clothes. Although the nurses were not even wearing hygienic gloves, they pressed and probed the children's genitals and took blood samples. The exams were conducted en masse--the children endured these humiliations in front of one other, amidst the panic, crying and fear.

When confronted about the situation, the Head Start director responsible for the exams said that he didn't think there was anything strange or unusual about the physicals. The tragic thing is that the director may be partially right--horror trips like this may become less and less unusual. A similar situation has already occurred to middle school girls at a public school in Pennsylvania.

But the director is definitely wrong about there being nothing strange here. First, standard medical practices seem to have been abandoned. There was no notice or parental consent, and the absence of hygienic gloves may indicate an even broader lack of good medical procedures.

More important, though, is the effect these exams had on the children. Imagine the terror they endured as strangers stripped them and invaded their most private parts, ignoring their resistance and cries. The strangers wouldn't even allow the children's teachers to come in and help calm them down.

These children were traumatized and humiliated and, as a result, suffered psychological and emotional distress. They continue to suffer after-effects such as fear, anger and guilt. Medical and psychological experts say that it will take a minimum of five years for the children to recover from this event, if they do ever do so fully. And their parents are undoubtedly suffering, as well.

This kind of action cannot be justified. Thirteen families have now filed a lawsuit against Head Start, the nurses involved, the county health department and the school district. The parents allege violations of their privacy, emotional and mental distress of their children and other constitutional claims. But no matter what the outcome of this case is, these young people will probably never be made whole again.

There is no doubt that sexual abuse is a serious problem and children must be protected from it. But there is no evidence that sexual abuse is so widespread that it justifies activities such as these that, in truth, amount to government-sponsored sexual abuse.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at Whitehead can be contacted at

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