Virginity testing is a prevalent practice in communities whereby the virginity of a bride is considered a virtue. The examination of a person’s genitals in many different ways to determine if a person is a virgin or not is a practice prevalent in many countries including the United Kingdom. In the 1970’s “British government officials conducted virginity tests on more than 80 female migrants hoping to enter the country on marriage visas. The Home Office said the practice was carried out on women arriving from India and Pakistan in order to weed out bogus immigration claims”.
Although there are no recent reports of this practice by UK governments, practices such as these are still taking place among immigrants living in the UK known to originate from countries who still hold such practices in high esteem.
Countries known to practice virginity testing
India (some communities in India): There are various ways to test If a bride is a virgin or not. One of the most commons methods used for testing is through “thread”. This is used to detect the presence of a hymen.
“Purity of water” is another method used. This consist of a woman holding her breath under water for a period of time whilst another woman walks for a distance of time. The woman holding her breath under water proves she is a virgin if able to hold her breath throughout the walking distance.
“Trail by fire” this method consists of a bride carrying a red hot iron in her hand. If the bride fails the test, it is assumed that she is no longer a virgin; Consequences following on from this includes beating the bride and forcing her to disclose the name (s) of any sexual partner (s) who has to pay the bride’s parents a huge sum of money.
South Africa: Although outlawed in 2007, the practice is still prevalent particularly within tribes such as the Zulu tribe. A woman is often required to lay down in front of relatives while she is inspected to ensure that her hymen is still in place and not broken. . The argument for this practice in some communities is around promoting abstinence in hopes that it reduces chances of contracting HIV and getting pregnant.
Egypt: In 2011, The Egyptian military was accused of carrying our virginity tests on a protester arrested in Tahrir Square. She was stripped and inspected by a male doctor who threatened her with prostitution charges. The doctor appeared in court and although an illegal practice was acquitted and the practice continues. Other counties known to practice virgin testing includes Sweden, Tanzania and Indonesia.
Virginity testing is a silenced issue within many BME communities and likely to be going on behind closed doors in the UK.
Just last year (September 2018) a couple were charged for subjecting their daughter to coercive and controlling behaviour by marching her to the GP for a virginity test at the age of 18 years old after discovering that she had a secret boyfriend. The court found that the couple took their daughter’s passport away and also threatened to take their daughter back to their home country to marry a cousin.
She was beaten by her mother and threated with a knife by her father when the pair found out about her boyfriend. The above case is known to be the first charged under UK law, however as mentioned, it is likely that cases such as this is still happening behind closed door.
The practice of virginity testing is a violation of human rights. It is a violation of women’s privacy and dignity. Such acts also constitute to emotional and physiological abuse and is a form of assault/violence.
Some women are born without hymens and those who are born with it can break it without knowing. Strenuous activities such as horse riding, cycling and dancing can break a woman’s hymen.
The lack of education is a contributor to the practice of virgin testing. Many people who are still encouraging of such practices may not be aware that women can be born without hymens and can stretch or break it through various activities.
Virgin testing is a humiliating practice, one that is illegal in most countries including the UK. If individuals are found to be participating in this practice, they might be charged.
We can support people in our communities affected by speaking up about such practices, if you are aware of such practice in your home, a friend’s home, or the home of someone you know please contact your local GP, Children’s Social Services or call 020 3735 8219 (endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk) for advice and support.
Reference and Further Reading