UK Clinics Offering ‘Virginity Tests’ and ‘Virginity Repair’ Exposed

Egyptian women protest against the military council violations and virginity tests on women, outside the State Council court in Cairo on December 27, 2011. A Cairo court ordered the Egyptian army to stop forced virginity tests on female detainees, months after the practice sparked a national outcry and stained the …
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Another form of abuse imported from the third world and forced on ethnic minority women has been exposed, after an investigation revealed British medical clinics are conducting “virginity tests” and “virginity repairs”.

The BBC identified 21 clinics that said they would conduct ‘hymen repair’ surgery, costing between £1,500 and £3,000, with seven confirming “virginity testing” for between £150 and £300.

Rothna Begum, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, condemned the practice, telling the BBC: “It is an incredibly intimate act in which a woman can find herself humiliated and degraded. And it can have harmful effects both physical and mental for years to come. In an odd way, you’re conducting a test to see whether a woman is actually a virgin, but in doing so, you’re actually sexually assaulting her.”

Karma Nirvana, a charity which helps women at risk of forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and other forms of “honour”-based violence, said that they had received calls from girls worried about being subjected to a virginity test.

“Triggers for honour-based abuse and forced marriage are being in a relationship, choosing your own partner and being in an intimate or sexual relationship. We know at the charity many victims in extreme cases have been killed. For other victims it might be they are disowned by family,” Karma Nirvana’s Priya Manota said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in a 2018 report that the practice is common in some 20 countries around the world, but mostly “established in Asia and the Middle East” as well as “countries in northern and southern Africa”.

The WHO added, however, it is also found “more recently, among some immigrant groups in Europe and North America”. Due to “increased globalisation” in the past century, it has been recorded in the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada.

The body noted that cases in the West are likely “underreported” because they are settings where culturally “this practice is not seen as desirable”. NHS England said there had been 69 hymen-repair procedures in the past year, but given the WHO’s claim the practice is underreported, true figures are likely to be much higher.

In September, France announced that it would be outlawing virginity testing, with the barbaric practice common amongst Muslim and Roma gypsy communities. While some campaigners have praised the ban as a victory for women’s rights, others are in an uproar over the effect that not being able to “prove” virginity could have on Muslim women in vulnerable situations within their families and community, including violent reprisals.

The WHO and UN have stated that no examination can prove a girl or woman is no longer a virgin, calling such tests unscientific.

France has also seen a rise in female genital mutilation (FGM) in recent years, as well as in Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, the custom originating in parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa and often defended by Muslim faith leaders. Generally perpetrated against young girls, a 2018 report revealed that 86 per cent of known cases occurred when the youngsters were taken to an African country for a “holiday” specifically to be cut by relatives.

The problem of Western-born girls being taken abroad is at such a scale that British and American authorities undertake coordinated operations at their respective airports during the summer — known as “cutting season” — to question parents suspected of preparing to or having taken their daughters to be cut overseas. Officers are instructed to also look out for girls having trouble walking, signs that they had been subjected to the worst forms of FGM, including removal of the clitoris and labia.

Every summer, the British authorities run awareness campaigns for girls and young women from ethnic minority communities at risk of being taken abroad and forced into marriage. The number of “honour crimes” and forced marriages also spike during the Christmas break.

Despite being illegal since 1985, the United Kingdom only saw its first conviction for FGM in 2019, after a woman was found complicit in the mutilation of her three-year-old daughter’s genitals. The case was striking in that it involved elements of voodoo. The abuser, identified only as a 37-year-old Ugandan woman, had performed witchcraft with fruits and ox tongues in an effort to use magic to silence the police, social services, and even one of her own children. Investigators found 40 limes in the woman’s freezer with people’s names written inside them, which the prosecution said was a spell to “freeze their mouths”, as well as whole ox tongues wrapped in wire and stuck with nails and screws.

Europe has seen an increase in the use of voodoo, black magic, and Santería brought over by African and Caribbean migrants. In 2018, a joint Spanish-British operation busted a sex trafficking ring that stretched from Nigeria to Spain, Italy, and Britain, where gangsters used voodoo to control and force women and girls as young as 13 from Africa into prostitution.

Breast ironing, another import from Africa, has also caught the media’s attention in recent years. Done under the guise of protecting girls from unwanted sexual advances, women will press heated stones or spatulas to a young girl’s developing breast, with some survivors explaining the painful experience of feeling like their breast is melting. At least 1,000 girls and women in Britain are believed to have been victims of breast ironing.

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