Imposition of virginity testing: a life-saver or a license to kill?

Research paper by Nadera N Shalhoub-Kevorkian

Indexed on: 01 Jan '05Published on: 01 Jan '05Published in: Social Science & Medicine


Little is known about medical and juridical (medicolegal) responses to sexual abuse in Palestinian society. Conventional wisdom posits that the actions of the medicolegal community help victims of sexual abuse and deter offenders. This study focuses on the prevailing practice of imposing a virginity test (IVT) on women in Palestinian society when questions of sexual abuse or perceived misconduct arise. We found that the continuing practice of uncritically collecting forensic reports and the refusal to closely examine the specific dynamics of oppression (medical, cultural, legal, political) in which the victims of sexual abuse are necessarily implicated actually increases the power of medicine and law to adversely function as tools of oppression. However, as I elaborate below, despite the localized factors in play, it is critically important not to view the process of virginity testing merely through the rubrics of "culture"-an approach that more often than not impedes understanding and fails to contextualize what we observe.