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Medical college calls on government to ban virginity testing and hymenoplasty

News 16 August 2021

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is calling on the Government to introduce a ban on virginity testing and hymenoplasty in the UK. 

There is no reason why either virginity testing or hymenoplasty, or any other procedure under a different name that seeks to reconstruct or repair the hymen, would need to be carried out for medical purposes, according to a policy statement published by the RCOG today. Both are harmful practices that create and exacerbate social, cultural and political beliefs that a women’s value is based on whether or not she is a virgin before marriage, say the College.
The scale of the problem is not known in the UK because the procedures are carried out in private clinics and the data is not available. The RCOG is concerned that the way private clinics are advertising these procedures to women is further perpetuating myths around virginity, and in some cases being dishonest about what these procedures can achieve. 
The UK Government has committed to legislating to ban virginity testing, but has not yet made this commitment on hymenoplasty. The RCOG is calling for a ban on both.
Dr Edward Morris, President at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:
“We are very concerned that women are either being coerced into having these procedures or feel pressurised into having them so they can bleed during sex and can demonstrate they are a virgin on their wedding night.
“We want to see both virginity testing and hymenoplasty banned in the UK. This will send a clear message that there is no place in the medical world for these procedures and that women deserve the right to have ownership over their own sexual and reproductive health.
“We recognise that women seeking these procedures are often in very vulnerable and desperate situations. We would urge healthcare professionals who are approached about virginity testing or hymenoplasty to follow the appropriate safeguarding protocols, to ensure women are able to connect with organisations that can offer support. This should include referring women to police or social services if there is a perceived risk of violence or coercion.”
The RCOG is working with charities including IKWRO and Karma Nirvana to ensure there is support in place for women who are being pressurised into proving their virginity in this way.
Diana Nammi, Executive Director at IKWRO – Women's Rights Organisation, said:
"Virginity testing and hymenoplasty are forms of violence against women and girls and there is no justification for either of these harmful practices, which cause immediate and long-term social and psychological trauma. Like the equally harmful practices of Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage, both must be banned with immediate effect. 
"Far from safeguarding the women or girl against "honour" based abuse, hymenoplasty paves the way to many forced marriages, where there is an expectation that the bride will present as a virgin. Most women and girls are unaware that hymenoplasty cannot guarantee bleeding which can mean that she is left at even greater risk on her wedding night. 
"What we need to see from the government, in addition to an urgent change in the law to ban virginity testing and hymenoplasty, is funding for specialist support services like IKWRO to safeguard women and girls at risk and to engage communities and young people through schools, to challenge the perception that a woman’s or girl’s worth is connected to virginity."
Natasha Rattu, Executive Director at Karma Nirvana – leading specialist charity for victims of Honour Based Abuse, said:
“Every woman deserves the right to make any decision about her body – free from shame, stigma or discrimination, without pressure to subscribe to ‘gender-based societal norms’, and without fear of harm. This is why we are campaigning to end the practice of virginity testing and hymen repair, in addition to tackling the shame and stigma commonly associated to ‘virginity’. ‘Virginity’ is a deeply embedded social norm that has no scientific basis.
“We recognise virginity testing and hymenoplasty to be forms of Violence Against Women and Girls, which in itself is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality. We have invited the government to support our call for legislative changes to enable full protection for women and girls from this hidden harm in our written submission to the Home Office Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy. Virginity testing is rarely an isolated incident of abuse, it is often associated with other behaviours that discriminate against, limit or harm women and girls. In our experience, this can include other forms of Honour Based Abuse, such as forced marriage”.
Dr Pallavi Latthe, Chair of The British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology (BritSPAG - a specialist society of the RCOG), said:
“The RCOG and BritSPAG would also like to see comprehensive, evidence-based and high-quality information about virginity available on the NHS website, as well as within healthcare and other public sector settings. This information should aim to dispel myths about virginity, and to support women and girls to have ownership over their own sexual and reproductive health. This information should sit within a wider plan for high-quality information around women’s health that can be developed as part of the upcoming Women’s Health Strategy.
“We are committed to working with the Government to make sure legislation does not prohibit clinicians from undertaking clinically necessary procedures, such as the need to repair hymenal remnants following external trauma or another clinical procedure. We are also calling for a review of the clinical codes that relate to the hymen on current NHS systems to make sure there are no codes that allow for clinicians to undertake a hymenoplasty.” 
ENDS
For media enquiries, please contact the RCOG press office on +44 (0) 7986 183167 or email pressoffice@rcog.org.uk.
Case studies are available for interview through Karma Nirvana and IKWRO – see below for contact details.
Notes to Editor:
Read the RCOG’s policy statement on hymenoplasty and virginity testing here.
To find out more about IKWRO’s Virginity Does Not Define Me campaign visit: http://ikwro.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/virginity-does-not-define-me.pdf
About RCOG
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is a medical charity that champions the provision of high quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision.
About IKWRO
IKWRO - Women’s Rights Organisation is the leading charity providing advice and support to Middle Eastern and North African women and girls living in the UK, who have experienced, or are at risk of all forms of “honour” based abuse, including; forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation, virginity testing, hymenoplasty or domestic abuse. IKWRO operates a specialist women’s refuge and advice and counselling services, provides training for women and girls to help them understand their rights, trains professionals from the statutory and voluntary sectors and campaigns to improve laws and policies to tackle all forms of “honour” based abuse.
For media enquiries, please contact the IKWRO’s Campaign Manager +44 (0) 7739308398
Twitter handle: @IKWRO
About Karma Nirvana
Karma Nirvana is the longest established specialist charity supporting victims and survivors of Honour Based Abuse. Since our inception, we have successfully provided support to thousands of people affected by Honour Based Abuse and supporting professionals from the police, social services, and schools to help them better understand the issues. We exist to support, empower and educate all those impacted by Honour Based Abuse throughout the UK.
Karma Nirvana delivers the government-backed Honour Based Abuse helpline, supporting all those impacted by Honour Based Abuse throughout the UK. In 2020 -21, the national Honour Based Abuse helpline received just over 12,500 contacts. In the last two years, disclosures relating to virginity testing and hymen repair surgery have increased to our national Honour Based Abuse helpline. Between 2020 and 2021, our national Helpline supported 41 women and girls, where ‘sex before marriage’ / not being a ‘virgin’, was recognised as the motive for abuse from perpetrators. 
In 2019, we became secretariat to the Honour Based Abuse All-Party Parliamentary Group chaired by Virendra Sharma MP and Baroness Cox. 
Our founder Jasvinder Sanghera was awarded Commander of the British Empire in 2013 to recognise her outstanding contribution to tackling forced marriage and Honour Based Abuse. Her TedX Talk on ‘Fighting Forced Marriage and Honour Based Abuse’ has been watched over 2.1 million times.
Natasha Rattu and the survivors of Honour Based Abuse are available for interview.
For further information, a full list of event activity or to request an interview please contact:   
Anup Manota on 0113 887 0281 or email  a.manota@karmanirvana.org.uk                 
Twitter handle: @KNFMHBV