Girls have been forced to endure so-called virginity tests at UK medical clinics, according to campaigners and politicians who want the “medieval” practice ended.
Highly-intrusive and potentially traumatic vaginal examinations, to see if the hymen is intact, are deemed a serious infringement of human rights by the United Nations.
The World Health Organisation says the practice is also a sham because the hymen can rip for a number of reasons such as using a tampon or doing exercise.
Richard Holden, Conservative MP for North West Durham, has introduced a bill outlawing virginity testing which is due to have its second reading in parliament on Friday.
He told The Independent that getting a virginity test is “far too easy” and warned that young women and girls are being pushed into the procedure.
He urged the government to outlaw virginity testing, adding that authorities do not record or regulate the practice due because it is not illegal.
Mr Holden, whose ten-minute rule bill has cross-party support, added: “It’s a total throwback to a medieval practice which people don’t realise is still going on in modern Britain.
“People are genuinely shocked it is still going on. It embodies the worst aspects of an archaic culture which sees women as property and as marriage material for men rather than people with their own lives and rights.
“I was so disturbed when I read reports this is going on. As the World Health Organisation points out – there is no scientific basis for it.”
A recent BBC investigation discovered 21 clinics offering so-called virginity testing in the UK – which were charging between £150 and £300.
Natasha Rattu, director of Karma Nirvana, a national charity which supports victims of honour-based abuse, told The Independent they have encountered virginity testing in the work they do with survivors.
Ms Rattu added: “But it is definitely very hidden. It is a form of violence and abuse against women and girls. Victims are made to prove their virginity to be honourable and to be respected among family and the community. It is also about modesty and purity – women will not be viewed as pure if they have had relationships outside of marriage.
“We have had cases where victims have been asked to prove themselves after being seen with a boy and asked if they have had sexual relations.
“The evidence out there won’t reflect the scale of the problem because sexual abuse is hard for victims to talk about. Many of these girls aren’t taught to speak openly about things of a sexual nature.”
The Independent previously revealed ministers are considering dropping references to honour-based abuse in the recording of crimes such as forced marriage, coercive control and female genital mutilation, sparking fears offences could go undetected.
Under the current system, certain offences — which can also include threats to kill, assault, attempted murder, and murder — are recorded under the blanket label of honour-based abuse. Ministers are believed to want to scrap the term to avoid falsely linking such crimes to “honour” — with the Home Office due to review use of the term later this month at a meeting with charities.