Indonesia’s ‘discriminatory, cruel and degrading’ test for female police recruits

Jakarta, Indonesia (CNN) — The Indonesian police continue to use a “degrading” invasive physical test to check for female recruits virginity, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has claimed.

A manual examination is used to physically check for an intact hymen in the recruits, the report alleges.

It is, according to the report, a long-standing part of the health check that women must undergo to be accepted onto the force.

While the virginity test is not specifically part of the required “obstetrics and gynecology” examination that female recruits are required to undergo to gain entry to the National Police, senior female officers told the report’s authors that it has long been part of the process.

Virginity a requirement

The National Police website lists the health requirements for female recruits, listing virginity as one of the requirements.

“In addition to the other medical and physical examinations. Women who want to become policewomen are to undergo a virginity test. Policewomen must keep their virginity,” the informational page states. It ends the section with a cheery “thank you” and a smiley-face emoticon.

Married women are not eligible to apply for service in the police force.

Police: Exams applicable to both sexes

A police spokesperson told CNN that all recruits, not only female, were subject to thorough medical tests that included examination of genitalia.

“Overall, the medical and physical examination has two main objectives. The first one is to make sure that the candidates’ health and physical condition will not harm them when admitted into police force,” spokesperson Roni Sompie said.

“Secondly, it is to make sure that they do not possess any communicable diseases that will not allow them to perform maximally as trained police personnel,” he said.

“As to the examination of the virginity, it is just a part of the whole medical and physical test, not intended to solely seek for the virginity condition. Or it can not be put in a perspective for the sake of finding out the virginity, instead, it is for the sake of the completeness of medical and physical examination.”

Sompie also said that the HRW report was incomplete because it had not sought comment from police medical authorities.

‘Discriminatory, cruel, degrading’

HRW says they interviewed several female officers and applicants, as well as police medical and recruitment staff. They also say they spoke with a National Police commission member. The officers and recruits who had undergone the test called it “painful” and “traumatic.”

The report describes the test, administered by Police Medical and Health Center staff in police hospitals in the cities of Bandung, Jakarta, Padang, Pekanbaru, Makassar, and Medan, as “discriminatory, cruel (and) degrading.”

One recruit interviewed by HRW for the report said: “Entering the virginity test examination room was really upsetting. I feared that after they performed the test I would not be a virgin anymore. It really hurt. My friend even fainted because… it really hurt, really hurt.”

HRW called the test “subjective and unscientific.”

“The Indonesian National Police’s use of ‘virginity tests’ is a discriminatory practice that harms and humiliates women,” said Nisha Varia, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch in a statement.

“Police authorities in Jakarta need to immediately and unequivocally abolish the test, and then make certain that all police recruiting stations nationwide stop administering it.”

Outside condemnation

Women’s rights advocates have corroborated the HRW reports’ findings.

“Over the last 12 years, I have been visited by many police women complaining about virginity tests conducted by police department, with some of them (saying) they have suffered from trauma having conducted the test, because they felt painful and they felt ashamed of being tested. The trauma lasts even until now,” Yefri Heriyani, of Padang based Women’s Crisis center Nurani Perempuan, told CNN.

“We protest this virginity test, which is now disguised under the name ‘medical and physical examination’ … Virginity tests (are) one of the forms of sexual violence, and therefore a human rights violation. We demand an end to this practice.”

Reform attempts insufficient

Attempts to reform the physical and abolish the “archaic” test, HRW says, have failed and the use of the test still widespread.

The group says virginity tests contradict internationally-agreed human rights standards. The rights organization has also cataloged similar abuses by police in several other countries including Egypt, India, and Afghanistan, and has previously spoken out against virginity tests for Indonesian schoolgirls.

HRW say the report is counterproductive to the Indonesian government’s aim to recruit more women to the police force.

“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,” Varia said.

“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.”

Journalist Rudy Madanir contributed to this report.

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