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January 6, 2021

A welcome verdict

Editorial

 
January 6, 2021

The Lahore High Court, in a detailed judgment has declared that testing for the virginity of rape or sexual assault victims, using the outdated two-finger testing, is illegal and must not be practised. The detailed judgment authored by Justice Ayesha Malik came in response to two identical petitions -- one filed by a group of activists and advocates, while the second filed by a sitting PML-N MNA.

The petitioners had argued that rape victims already suffer a huge amount of indignity and face an extremely intrusive and negative attitude from society. The 'virginity test' is just another humiliating experience for rape survivors in a long list of trials they had to go through, after going through a nightmarish crime. The purpose of the test ostensibly is to ascertain if the raped woman habitually engaged in sexual intercourse. If this is the case, it is deemed that she is less likely to be a victim of rape. This, of course, makes very little sense -- scientifically, legally, every which way. It is also true that around the world, the test, which was brought to during colonial times, has been abandoned as being worthless and of no use whatsoever in ascertaining if rape has been committed. The police are to go ahead with the procedures intended to capture the perpetrators of the crime regardless of a virginity test. The issue has been a long-standing one, and the court has also rebuked the Punjab government for failing to put a ban on the test, despite orders issued earlier.

This is no doubt an important step for women and for rape survivors/victims, or those who have suffered sexual assault. The UN has called these virginity tests 'unscientific' and a violation of basic human rights. This traumatic test only adds to the abuse women have gone through, furthering their psychological, physical and social trauma. For a woman to first go through rape and then be told that not being a virgin means she has not been raped is possibly the most unscientific, humiliating, brutal assault on her all over again. It is essential that we learn to use modern methods in all our criminal investigations, and adopt sensitivity and good practices when it comes to crimes such as rape and sexual assault. Methods including forensic testing and other less invasive ways are available to investigate rape cases. There is hope that, with the LHC order, this medieval practice will come to an end not just in Punjab but all over the country. A raped woman needs justice, and that certainly doesn't require her sexuality to be placed in the dock.