Members of the public in Wales are being advised to look out for women and girls who may be at risk from – or may have already been subjected to – virginity testing and hymenoplasty.
The acts are forms of violence against women and girls and are part of the cycle of so called ‘honour-based’ abuse. They can be precursors to child or forced marriage and other forms of family and/or community coercive behaviours, including physical and emotional control.
Virginity testing is any examination of the female genitalia intended to establish if vaginal intercourse has taken place.
Hymenoplasty is a procedure undertaken to reconstruct a hymen to ensure a woman bleeds the next time she has intercourse to give the impression that she has no history of vaginal intercourse.
There is no scientific way to test for virginity, and such tests and procedures can lead to lifelong physical and psychological harm for victims.
Both of these forms of abuse became criminal offences in Wales, when The Health and Care Act 2022 came into force in July 2022. It is also illegal for UK nationals and residents to carry out, offer or aid and abet virginity testing and hymenoplasty outside of the country.
While other parts of the UK have issued guidance for professionals, the Welsh Government is going further, with materials published in a total of seventeen languages as part of a wider awareness raising campaign for care providers and the public.
The Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt MS, has described the move as “the right thing to do”.
On a visit to Bawso, a charity which supports people from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds who are affected by domestic abuse and other forms of abuse, the Minister added:
“The Welsh Government has always been clear, we want an end to all violence against women and girls. It is a societal problem which requires a societal response.
“It is crucial we raise awareness of virginity testing and hymenoplasty, and the recent changes in the law. These practices are based on repressive and inaccurate views, and women and girls cannot consent.
“In Wales, we believe we must challenge attitudes and change behaviours of those who are abusive.
“It is not for women to modify their behaviour; it is for abusers to change theirs.”
Bawso is one of a number of organisations where the guidance is now on display.
Acting Chief Executive, Wanjiku Ngotho-Mbugua said:
“This practice is an outrageous indignity towards the women and the girls subjected to it. It also demonstrates the intersectionality of discrimination faced by migrant women living in the UK.
“We welcome the interest, effort and support the Welsh Government has applied in raising awareness on this issue. It shows the seriousness of this vice.”
Women who ‘fail’ a virginity test, are found to have undergone a hymen reconstruction, or do not bleed on their wedding night are likely to experience further so called ‘honour-based’ abuse including emotional and physical abuse, family or community disownment and even honour killings.
Chief Nursing Officer for Wales, Sue Tranka said:
“Women and girls are known to be coerced and shamed into undergoing virginity testing and hymenoplasty. These practices can be physically harmful and can lead to extreme psychological trauma in the victim, provoking anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“By raising wider awareness of these degrading and intrusive acts, Wales is marching forward with its ambition to be a world leader for gender equality.”