UK Government to criminalise ‘virginity testing’, but what is it?

“It felt like you’re not a human being anymore. You wouldn’t treat an animal like that.” – ‘Zara’, a survivor. A Sky News report which was released before the recent strategy to tackle violence and girls was published. Read below for more.

‘Virginity testing’ sometimes referred to as ‘two-finger testing’ is a harmful violation of women and girls, an invasion of privacy, and an erosion of their human rights. Women are still being sent by men to have their virginity checked in the United Kingdom. Doctors (some registered with the NHS) have been carrying out this practice since 2012 when it was first reported, but possibly earlier. The vagina is probed to ensure that the hymen is intact. The examination can be painful, humiliating, and traumatic. It can lead to harmful mental, as well as physical health consequences.

This practice is not based on any science so it begs belief that qualified medical practitioners continue to engage in it. It reinforces gender stereotypes and inequality. It is rooted in traditions and social norms which seek to control the sexuality of women and girls, and dictate what they do with their bodies. In some communities, it is argued that ‘virginity testing’ helps to prevent child sexual abuse as perpetrators would fear that the abuse would be brought to light through testing. There is a lot that can be said about this, but to summarise, this is yet another way in which society places the onus on women to protect themselves, while failing to put as much emphasis on dealing with perpertrators. In the UK, this testing is mostly conducted before a woman or girl gets married. Like in the case of ‘Zara’ in the Sky News report above, these marriages are sometimes forced. The testing is a way of measuring her purity and her worth and it leaves women and girls at risk of so-called ‘honour’ killings where the result is a “failed test”.

The idea that you’re to prove something before entering into a marriage shows that it is transactional and part of a dowry. It also shows that there is a lack of free will. It’s effectively an exchange of goods and services, like selling a car, where a woman is deemed more attractive and chaste if she is a virgin. It’s barbaric, it’s not science-based and it’s not normal.

Nimko Ali, co-founder & CEO of The Five Foundation

Unsurprisingly, there are now clinics providing ‘virginity repair’ procedures or ‘hymenoplasty’ to reconstruct the hymen so that women still bleed during intercourse. This procedure reportedly costs around £3000; exploiting vulnerable women who are desperate to preserve the “honour” of their families. We will never really know the extent to which these procedures occur in the UK. Not only are they booked in confidence, but this practice also does not happen in a vacuum. It is often related to other instances of abuse, coercion, and control in communities where women and girls are silenced. It mostly remains undocumented unless a woman seeks support.

In the recently published strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, the government states; “The Department for Health and Social Care will work to criminalise ‘virginity testing’, which some women and girls are being forced to undergo, to send a clear message that this practice is wholly unacceptable in our society.” This move to criminalise virginity testing – as well as ‘hymenoplasty’, has been supported by the Department of Health and Social Care after it was introduced by Richard Holden, a Conservative Member of Parliament for North West Durham, last year.

Virginity tests are totally bogus with no basis in scientific fact. And moreover, women are not objects to be examined and tested by men and there are seriously detrimental impacts, both immediate and long-term, on women who are forced to undergo these tests. With cross-party support behind me, I will continue to campaign on this until we see this dangerous, harmful and misogynistic practice outlawed.

Richard Holden, Member of Parliament for North West Durham


Is virginity a myth? Thoughts?

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