Female Indonesian police recruits forced to undergo ‘virginity tests’

Female recruits hoping to join Indonesia’s police force are forced to undergo two-finger “virginity tests”, a rights-group has found, a practice that leaves the young women traumatised, humiliated and in pain.

The test is listed publicly as a requirement to enter the force and performed as part of the chief of police’s health inspection guidelines for new candidates, which requires women to complete an “obstetrics and gynaecology” exam.

While female recruits are also expected to be single and not marry until they have been in the force for a few years, Indonesia’s National Police website claims they “must also undergo virginity tests” in addition to general medical and physical examinations, with the added warning: “So all women who want to become policewomen should keep their virginity.” The practice contravenes both Indonesia’s national police principles, as well as international human-rights policy, says Human Rights Watch, which interviewed both female police recruits and active female police officers in six cities across Indonesia.

While women who “failed” the test weren’t necessarily prevented from entering the force, all of those interviewed described the test as painful and traumatic, and described the practice as widespread across the force.

“Entering the virginity test examination room was really upsetting,” one interviewee told the rights group. “I feared that after they performed the test I would not be a virgin anymore. They inserted two fingers with gel …it really hurt. My friend even fainted.”

Although women often complain to their superiors about the exam, and a former head of police personnel agreed to abolish the test in 2010, it continues to be practised in the same way it has for decades, interviewees said. One retired female officer said her entire 1 965 female recruitment class had to endure the “two-finger” exam.

“So-called virginity tests are discriminatory and a form of gender-based violence — not a measure of women’s eligibility for a career in the police,” said Nisha Varia, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

“This pernicious practice not only keeps able women out of the police, but deprives all Indonesians of a police force with the most genuinely qualified officers.”

Human Rights Watch’s research into the practice follows a new recruitment drive to hire 50% more females into Indonesia’s national police force by December, making the number of female officers comprise 5% of the 400 000-strong force.

Indonesian police spokesman Maj Gen Ronny Sompie said the test was no reason to “respond negatively” to the force’s requirements and that the exam is used to establish whether applicants have any sexually transmitted infections.

“All of this is done in a professional manner and [does] not harm the applicants,” Sompie said.

But both local and international rights groups say the “hymen test” is humiliating to female recruits and should be abolished nationwide.

“No effort is made to help them out of their stress and trauma,” said Yefri Heriyani, of West Sumatra’s women’s rights group Nurani Perempuan, warning that the exam has “long-lasting effects” on the female recruits. “Many of them blame themselves for taking the test.”

While premarital relationships and sex are common in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, female virginity can still be overly lauded. An education board in South Sumatra came under fire last year for planning “virginity tests” as part of its high school admission requirements. — Kate Hodal

Image – Indonesian policewomen stand guard while Indonesian workers of the All-Indonesia workers union hold a protest against the government’s plan to hike fuel prices in Jakarta on March 29, 2012. (AFP)