Why Swedish Docs Perform Illegal Virginity Tests On Young Girls

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Woman with half-moon tattoo on her back.


You wouldn't think that something as barbaric and unthinkable as virginity testing would be happening in a country as progressive as Sweden, but the investigative program Kalla Fakta (Cold Fact) has reported that the country does.

Kalla Fakta reported that three doctors at different medical institutions perform virginity tests  ordered by relatives, and mostly against the patients' will. Religious parents sometimes want the test to make sure that their daughters are pure.

An article in Vice says that as difficult as it is to wrap your mind around, the requests for these tests put the doctors in a moral bind. Many countries, Sweden among them, lack professional guidelines and established procedures for responding to young females requesting virginity certificates or hymen restoration due to honor-related threats, a recent Swedish study claims.

"One must bear in mind that this is a traumatic situation and maybe not so pragmatic, but have empathy toward such a patient, given the circumstances,"  Niels Lynöe, a professor in medical ethics and one of the authors of the study, told Vice

Confirming a patient's virginity via a test and certificate could be vital to securing her safety. A virginity test is also usually done before a woman is given away for marriage.

"There are even doctors who, in specific circumstances, would want to restore the patient's hymen by surgery so she bleeds during her wedding night," Lynöe said.

Besides being horribly intrusive and archaic, the alleged test isn't even accurate because it looks at whether girls still have a hymen in place. The hymen can break the first time the woman has intercourse, but it can also break through exercise or injury. 

Having virginity standards like these are part of honor cultures, and are widely accepted in the Middle East and in countries like such as Serbia and Slovenia. If a woman fails the wedding-night test (no blood on the bed sheets), she risks been shunned, abused or even killed, which is why a virginity certificate can be critical. Sweden has approximately 70,000 children and teenagers who live in honor cultures.

Liesl Gerntholtz from Human Rights Watch told The Daily Mail, "In a country that internationally has played a leading role in protecting women's human rights, it was almost unthinkable to me that this would be happening in a country like Sweden."

Do doctors uphold the law and risk the lives of these young women, or go through the motions of a virginity test and hand out a piece of paper confirming virginity?

"If a white lie can help a woman in a difficult situation then, at least, I understand that it's difficult [for a doctor] to say no," Lynöe said.

If a girl is tested against her will, it's just wrong, let alone a violation against her human rights. Can gender-based violence ever be justified, even if its intention is to help protect a woman's life?