The Punjab government has issued a notification banning the two-finger test for survivors of rape and sexual assault. A move that should have happened much earlier given that the test holds no medical validity whatsoever. But still, it is a step in the right direction. However, it is important to note that this notification has not outlawed the two-finger test in the entirety of Pakistan, nor has it shifted the undue focus of the law from a woman’s virginity.
This continued obsession with a survivor’s virginity does nothing to discourage rampant victim blaming by the police and courts, in fact it still provides a loophole for rapists to exploit and get away scot-free.
The notification explicitly bans the two-finger test and discourages the usage of statements such as ‘habituation to sex, loose morals and easy virtue’ in the medico-legal reports of sexual assault and rape survivors, but the notification also goes on to state that medico-legal reports must still “be brief, concise, precise and without any ambiguity stating about recent or old loss of virginity as well as occurrence of recent sexual intercourse per-vaginum, etc”. This continued obsession with a survivor’s virginity does nothing to discourage rampant victim blaming by the police and courts, in fact it still provides a loophole for rapists to exploit and get away scot-free.
Virginity tests provide rapists with an easy way to escape justice as they unfairly turn the attention of the court towards the character of the victim instead of the heinous crime committed by the perpetrator.
Maligning the character of rape victims is an oft used defence tactic in trials around the world, but in Pakistan this tactic not only psychologically tortures the victim but in conjunction with medico-legal reports provides legitimate grounds for dismissal of the case. For example, the Lahore High Court, in Fahad Aziz v State disregarded the testimony of a rape victim as the medico-legal report stated “she appeared to be a woman of easy virtue [and] indulged in sexual activities”. Similarly, in 2006, the Federal Shariat Court acquitted an accused rapist of all charges because the “victim girl was of easy virtue and though she was unmarried and of 16 years, but had lost her virginity”. Virginity tests provide rapists with an easy way to escape justice as they unfairly turn the attention of the court towards the character of the victim instead of the heinous crime committed by the perpetrator.
The sustained insistence on virginity testing rape or assault victims in Pakistan has nothing to do with medical evidence, and is purely based on cultural notions of honour and chastity.
The two-finger test along with other virginity testing measures focuses on the hymen in order to establish a woman’s virginal status or lack thereof. Now the two-finger test may have been banned but other virginity testing measures are still in place. The recent Punjab government notification states, “Inspection should be both with naked eye, magnifying lens and by use of Glaister Keen glass rod. Two finger test must not be performed”. The Glaister Keen rod is a glass rod with small bulb attached to the tip and is used to examine the condition of the hymen. Such invasive probing only serves to further traumatise the victim, and does not provide any conclusive evidence. The condition of the hymen isn’t always dependant on sexual intercourse.
The hymen is a thin membrane that surrounds vaginal opening on the inside and is very prone to tearing or stretching for a number of reasons. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a flat sheet walling off a woman’s vagina like some chastity belt of old. Scientific studies have shown that the hymen can incur trauma or stretching from everyday activities and exercise. And, some women can be born without one as well. So, examining the state of a rape survivor’s hymen will provide no useful information. Numerous studies of rape victims have shown that less than half have any injuries to the hymen after a sexual assault. This illustrates that the sustained insistence on virginity testing rape or assault victims in Pakistan has nothing to do with medical evidence, and is purely based on cultural notions of honour and chastity.
The courts must move past allowing the character assassination of victims and judge crimes based on the constitutional rights and freedoms they violate.
The implication of courts still requiring medical reports to deliberate on the virginity of rape and assault victims is that only a virgin can truly be raped. Such tests further the cultural bias against women who may be sexually active as they imply that ‘she must have wanted it’. The notion that women who may have had consensual sex at some point in their past must always be up for sex no matter who it’s with or how it happens is disgusting. And virginity tests weaponise that disgusting sentiment against rape and sexual assault survivors. There should be no room in the law for any such tests that attempt to judge the character of a woman, as that has nothing to do with the crimes committed against them.
Rape by definition is non-consensual, and violates the basic human right of bodily autonomy. The courts must move past allowing the character assassination of victims, and judge crimes based on the constitutional rights and freedoms they violate. And, for that to happen evidence in rape and assault cases must come from scientifically sound avenues like DNA testing. Pakistan must do more than pay lip service to women’s rights, and actually ensure the dignity and safety of its women by abolishing regressive practices like virginity testing.