New York could ban intrusive tests aimed at determining virginity in response to the controversial remarks made recently by the rapper TI that he has a gynecologist check his daughter’s hymen annually.
Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said Tuesday the bill she submitted last month would prohibit medical professionals from performing or supervising such examinations, though it’s unclear how common they are in the US. New York would also consider it sexual assault when such tests are performed outside of a medical setting.
“It’s medically unnecessary,” the Democrat said. “It’s often painful, humiliating, traumatic. All in all, it’s a form of violence against women.”
Her bill has attracted support from three Democratic lawmakers, and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration officials called the practice “disturbing”. Solages said no other states have such bans.
The World Health Organisation, UN Women and the UN Human Rights office called for the end of the tests worldwide last year. They said the testing often involves inspecting the hymen or inserting fingers into the vagina.
TI, also known as Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr., drew criticism when he said in a November episode of the podcast ‘Ladies like Us’ that he asked a gynecologist to check his teenage daughter’s hymen shortly after her birthday each year. She is now 18.
“I put a sticky note on the door: ‘Gyno. Tomorrow. 9:30,’” Harris said.
After his comments prompted backlash on social media, he told Jada Pinkett Smith on the Facebook interview show Red Table Talk he’d been exaggerating and that “he was never in any exam room”.
Phone and email messages were left with Harris’ publicist Tuesday.
Experts say such testing is painful and that there’s no evidence such testing shows whether a woman or girl has had vaginal intercourse.
“There is no test that can tell you whether someone had intercourse, whether consensually or non-consensually,” Ranit Mishori, professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and senior medical adviser for Physicians for Human Rights.
Mishori said there’s a mistaken belief that you can tell whether someone’s had vaginal intercourse from a tear in a hymen, which can also tear from tampons or physical activity. Some women lack a hymen, a membrane that partly covers vaginas and can also change as a girl matures due to hormonal change.
“It’s of course not only impossible to tell for sure, but also a violation of woman’s rights,” said retired obstetrician-gynecologist Jaana Rehnstorm, who is the founder and president of gender equality non-profit The Kota Alliance.
Solages called the practice “barbaric” and based on the idea that women are men’s property. She said just one instance, such as TI’s, of such an examination happening is enough for a ban.
“Whether he was being serious or he was being sarcastic, he brought to the limelight that this is happening in the US,” she said.