Indonesia’s police humiliated with ‘virginity tests’

Female recruits hoping to join Indonesia’s police force are forced to undergo two-finger “virginity tests”, a rights group has found, a practice that leaves the women traumatised, humiliated and in pain.

The test is listed publicly as a requirement to enter the force and performed as part of the chief of police’s health inspection guidelines for new candidates, which requires women to complete an “obstetrics and gynaecology” exam.

Female recruits are expected to be single and not to marry until they have been in the force for several years. Indonesia’s national police website claims they must undergo virginity tests in addition to general medical and physical examinations, with the added warning: “So all women who want to become policewomen should keep their virginity.”

The practice contravenes Indonesia’s national police principles and international human rights policy, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), which interviewed female police recruits and serving female officers in six cities.

Although women who “failed” the test were not necessarily prevented from entering the force, all of those interviewed said the examination was painful and traumatic and described the practice as widespread.

“Entering the virginity test examination room was really upsetting,” one interviewee said. “I feared that after they performed the test I would not be a virgin anymore. They inserted two fingers with gel … it really hurt. My friend even fainted.”

Continues to be practiced
Although women often complain to their superiors about the exam, which establishes whether a woman’s hymen is still intact, and a former head of police personnel agreed to abolish the test in 2010, it continues to be practised in the same way as it has for decades, interviewees said. One retired officer said her entire 1965 recruitment class had to endure the two-finger exam.

“So-called virginity tests are discriminatory and a form of gender-based violence, not a measure of women’s eligibility for a career in the police,” said Nisha Varia, the associate women’s rights director of the HRW.

“This pernicious practice not only keeps able women out of the police but deprives all Indonesians of a police force with the most genuinely qualified officers.”

The HRW’s research into the practice follows a recruitment drive to hire 50% more females into the national police force by December, boosting the proportion of female officers to 5% of the 400 000-member force.

An Indonesian police spokesperson, Major General Ronny Sompie, said the test was no reason to “respond negatively” to the force’s requirements, and that the exam was used to establish whether applicants had a sexually transmitted infection. “All of this is done in a professional manner and [does] not harm the applicants,” Sompie said.

Humiliating
But local and international rights groups say the hymen test is humiliating and should be abolished.

“No effort is made to help the women out of their stress and trauma,” said Yefri Heriyani, of the West Sumatra women’s rights group Nurani Perempuan, warning that the exam had long-lasting effects on the recruits. “Many of them blame themselves for taking the test.”

Although premarital sex is common in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, female virginity is often lauded.

An education board in south Sumatra came under fire last year for planning virginity tests as part of its high school admission requirements. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

Kate Hodal
Kate Hodal
Writing and reporting on the @guardian's Global Development and Modern-Day Slavery desks. Former @guardian Southeast Asia correspondent.
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