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Assemblywoman Gonzalez Wants California To Ban So-called 'Virginity Testing'

 January 15, 2020 at 10:18 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Assemblywoman. Lorena Gonzalez, who's calling for a statewide ban on so-called virginity testing, Gonzalez introduced assembly bill 1909 last week. It will subject physicians who perform the exam to professional misconduct penalties. Here's Gonzales. It's a uh, anyone but a doctor performed this procedure if you will, they, they would be guilty of sexual assault. And so, um, since there's no medically accurate or justified reason, um, to do this examination, uh, we think it's time to, to ensure that doctors also don't do it. The practice came into the spotlight when rapper T I said he took his daughter to the gynecologist yearly to check her hymen to see if she had intercourse. Sophia Jones is an editor and journalist with the fuller project, a journalism nonprofit reporting on issues impacting women. She wrote a piece of Marie-Claire on the practice and joins us now. Sophia, welcome. Thank you. First, what do we know about how common these so-called virginity test are and how common are they in the United States? Speaker 1: 01:03 That's a really difficult question to answer. I mean there, there isn't very much data at all and it's a very secretive issue wrapped up in hundreds of years in Assad money and shame. And I interviewed several dozen girls, women, medical professionals, researchers who say that it's definitely happening in the United States. It's been happening for a long time and there just isn't much, um, education around the hymen in general and that it's largely happening in secret. I'm curious to know, is this so-called test more common among various, um, groups of people here in the U S than others? When I set out to do this reporting, I assumed that it would be more common in certain religious communities. But what I found was that it's actually fairly widespread. And of course the data is very difficult to get for a very secretive a thing like virginity testing. But I was speaking with, um, women across religious and socioeconomic groups across the United States who said that this was happening to them. Speaker 1: 02:05 And what do these tests involve? Usually it involves a hymen exam in which a girl or woman would go into a doctor's office. Um, sometimes it doesn't happen in doctor's offices. It might just happen in a home where a woman would actually have to spread her legs and the person would inspect their hymen in an attempt to determine if they are a Virgin or not, which of course is not scientifically accurate at all. And does, um, some people say it's abusive. Right. And, and as you mentioned, these tests can actually tell you whether someone is a Virgin or not. Um, can you explain to us why that is? Sure. So there, there is no marker of virginity in men or women and a lot of people don't know that. They might not have been taught that in school or as adults, but there is no scientific way to prove if anyone is a Virgin. Speaker 1: 02:55 Virginity is largely a social construct and the hymen itself, um, can, can change shapes and it, um, some girls can have their high mentor in when they're playing sports. Some women much later in life, still have a relatively, uh, quote unquote intact hymen. Um, so it really just depends. And you spoke to a woman who told you that there's so-called virginity test was a traumatic experience for her. Can you tell us about the woman you refer to as B in your Marie-Claire story on the subject? Sure. So she was a very young woman, a teenager when she had to undergo a virginity test and she actually referred to the test as rape by instrument. It was, um, something that her, her mother forced her into at a very young age. And she has struggled her entire life with, with getting over this trauma. And she's still in therapy because of it. Speaker 1: 03:48 And a lot of the women that I've spoken with say that it, it dramatically impacted their life. For some women, this is happening at a very young age. They might be, you know, under the age of 15 for others it's happening as adults. These tests can also lead to sexual abuse not being taken seriously. Can you talk to us a bit about that? Sure. Over the course of my reporting over months, I uncovered quite a few surprising court cases over decades, even in the last few years in which, uh, defense attorneys and courtrooms have used, uh, rape kits and Hyman exams as an attempt to say that rape or sexual violence did not occur because the girl or a woman's Hyman was quote unquote intact. And of course there is no scientific basis for this. So it's just a way to try to defend sexual violence and rape. Speaker 1: 04:38 And the world health organization has called on governments worldwide to ban the practice and some have, uh, have, but within the United States, only New York and now California are in the process of banning it. Do we know why the United States has been so slow to ban the practice? I think this issue has largely been kept secret. I mean, before I, before I pursued this reporting, there had been absolutely no reporting on it. And the only reason why I pursued it was because I was looking into a story in Afghanistan about women in the North of the country who had been imprisoned for failing virginity exams. And I started to reach out in the U S seeing if this was happening at all. And what I found was that it was, but it was almost entirely kept secret. Are there any medical organizations that provide guidance to physicians on whether or not to conduct these so-called virginity tests? Speaker 1: 05:26 Right now, no. Medical organizations provide clear guidelines on frigidity testing or, or hymen a plasti is, which are, um, plastic surgery in order to, uh, recreate a high men and girls and women. Um, but right now, no medical organizations provide guidance, which, which leads to a lot of gray area. When physicians are asked to perform these exams, only two States have had proposed legislation that would ban, uh, virginity testing. So this leaves a lot of gray area, the country in which physicians have to determine whether or not they should perform an exam or what they should actually do to protect girls and women. And you spoke to physicians who have been asked to perform this so-called test on their patients. Um, what did they tell you about their experiences? I spoke with quite a few physicians who had been asked for form Hyman exams and some of them said that they honestly didn't know how to respond. Speaker 1: 06:23 And so some of them actually did perform the exams. Some did not and used it as sort of an educational opportunity. But others said that they've performed the exams because they worried if they didn't, it would actually lead to more harm for the girl or for the woman. Based on your reporting, what would you hope to see happen at least in the medical community in terms of guidance on this? A lot of experts in women's rights activists I've spoken with have said that, um, step one could be legislating, although there are a lot of opinions around that. But step two really needs to be education in schools. There needs to be good sexual education, which girls and boys are taught about the female anatomy and the high men and in communities and among the physicians. There needs to be better education around behind men in general. Speaker 1: 07:09 And what's probably even more problematic is that a woman's worth isn't tied to her virginity, correct? Yes. I mean, in a lot of, in a lot of aspects, it really comes down to a woman's worth is tied to this, this small thing in her body that really has, um, uh, no importance whatsoever. I mean, uh, hymens come in all shapes and sizes. Some very few women are not born with hymens at all. And so that in court rooms and in doctor's offices, a woman's worth is defined by her high men is a deeply upsetting, and it doesn't have to be that way. I've been speaking with Sophia Jones and editor and journalist with the fuller project. Sophia, thank you very much. Thank you. Speaker 2: 07:56 [inaudible].

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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, introduced Assembly Bill 1909 last week. It would subject physicians who perform the exam, which involves inspecting a woman's hymen, to professional misconduct penalties.
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