Virginity Test (2)..medico-legal Approach
…welcome back from last week’s break
We shall continue on the subject matter …Virginity test: play or plunge this week
However, I shall also look at the medico-legal aspect of this discourse. Enjoy it and do feel free to drop your comments.
Human Rights Violation
Imposed virginity testing is a forced, invasive, and degrading physical examination. It is a violation of women’s human rights that breaches articles from internationally recognized declarations, covenants, and conventions. It is thus a violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
A forced virginity test is a direct and arbitrary attack on a woman’s honor and thus a violation of Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”.
Additionally, the results of a virginity test are commonly given to a fiancé, husband, or woman’s family. This disclosure of patient information breaches the ethical standard of confidentiality that a medical doctor is expected to uphold.
Furthermore, it violates clauses that apply to virginity testing from The World Medical Association’s International Code of Medical Ethics: “A Physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical service in full professional and moral independence, with compassion and respect for human dignity.”
Using methods to recreate a woman’s virginal status can be seen as empowering for women, but at the same time reinforcing the patriarchal system of oppression. These methods give her an opportunity to take control of her own body, enjoy premarital sex and at the same time save her future relationship despite the fact that familial and societal institutions attempt to ultimately control these two things.
From another perspective, the artificial crafting of a woman’s virginity is something that perpetuates the system that demands this expectation. Hymen reconstruction surgery is not a medically necessary intervention, but rather one that is performed on social grounds as are most cosmetic operation. Therefore, some physicians may refuse to do this surgery because they may see it as promoting a woman’s deception of her partner. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) Ethics Committee has specific guidelines that pertain to this issue. The guidelines state that a practitioner who objects to do a procedure must still perform the procedure if they are able when a referral is not possible because they “must give priority to their patients’ lives, health and well-being”.
As I conclude, let me share with you an excerpts from a novel I read long ago titled Breath, Eyes, Memories by Edwidge Danticat.
The story of Sophie is not far-fetched in our society today. The trauma the ladies go through due to this test gives them a picture that sex in itself is bad. Some get married and find it difficult to enjoy sex but just engage in it with their husband for the purpose of reproduction whereas it should be enjoyed.
Physical and Psychological Effects
- General Effects
A number of physical and psychological effects result from the act of conducting virginity examinations forcibly on women.
These examinations can cause physical pain, and can lead to damage to the hymen, bleeding, and to infection. Psychologically, the pain and suffering caused by these examinations is especially acute.
Forcibly conducting virginity examinations on women violates the autonomy of women in relation to their own body and sexual decision-making. In so doing, these examinations cause significant mental pain and suffering in almost all instances. When undertaken in a detention setting, they can be particularly be traumatic because of the ease in which the state exploits these women’s vulnerability and weakened resistance.
The pain and suffering caused by forcibly conducting virginity examinations may manifest as severe emotional pain, as well as fear, a sense of powerlessness or denial.
Irrespective of the findings of these examinations, conducting them forcibly also leads women to feel intense humiliation, self-disgust, and worthlessness. Women are often stricken by apathy, emotional numbing, and withdrawal, which contribute to difficulties in functioning normally in daily life.
- “Two-Finger Test”
When a forcibly conducted virginity examination involves the physical invasion of the woman’s body, such as when the ‘two-finger test’ is applied, trauma may be especially pronounced. Penetration of these women’s bodies against their consent violates their
Integrity, their privacy, and further disempowers them, thereby leading to heightened or particularised traumas.
When the examination is applied incident to an allegation of sexual violence, the procedure may mimic the alleged violence and constitute a second and repetitive traumatic event for the victim. The examination is also inherently coercive because refusal to submit to the examination following an allegation of sexual violence will be interpreted as a sign of duplicity.
Virginity examinations are medically unreliable and inherently discriminatory, and, in almost all instances, when conducted forcibly, result in significant physical and mental pain and suffering. It is my opinion that forcibly conducted virginity examinations have no clinical or scientific value and constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and may amount to torture depending on the individual circumstances.