UPDATE 12-27-2011:  The forced virginity tests have been now banned by an Egyptian court. Samira Ibrahim, one of the many women forced to undergo the humiliating examination, filed the case. This is a great victory for human rights.

Egyptian women protesting had to endure an entirely unique sort of humiliation — getting tested to see if they were virgins at the time of arrest. Lest you think that this was some kind of depraved way to get into women’s undergarments under legal pretenses, rest assured that this is not the case. After all, the senior general who wished not to be identified absolutely insisted that this was the case.


“We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place,” the general said. “None of them were (virgins).”

Well that is certainly a relief. If it turned out that any of the women had been virgins, then it certainly would not have been worth checking. Could it be that the tests themselves were a form of assault? We would want to assume that the Egyptian government would treat their detainees with anything other than the most respect?

Salwa Hosseini, a 20-year-old hairdresser and one of the women named in the Amnesty report, described to CNN how uniformed soldiers tied her up on the museum’s grounds, forced her to the ground and slapped her, then shocked her with a stun gun while calling her a prostitute.

The history of sexual assault in prison is lengthy and can be tied to a simple fact — incarcerated women (and men as well) are completely powerless against their captors and are held to their whims. The prisoners have the understanding that the key to their freedom lies solely in the hands of said captors and so they come to believe that they must do whatever they want to gain that freedom.

So let us now reiterate. The Egyptian government, trying to protect itself from claims of sexual assault, physically assaults women who were protesting the government. They then go on to actually sexually the prisoners — is there any doubt that there is no way to check if a woman is a virgin without completely degrading her sexually? It is simply not possible.

The Egyptian general made a remark that seemed to be an excuse for the poor behavior of the temporary military government. “The army can’t wait to return to its barracks and do what it does best — protect the nation’s borders.” To me, his saying this seems to be a cover for what he must have realized was absolutely wrong behavior. Bad behavior is bad regardless of why it is being perpetrated and it should be punished.

12 Comments

  1. I can tell you out of my close contacts with the Muslim world and past working experience in Jordan(two years) what this is, and it is still outrageous.

    It comes down to five factors.

    1. The Arab world suffers a cultural sexism that tears at the fabric of society. Though they are fighting it and there are great examples of the opposite, women are of low value and can be treated in the worst fashion and often by their own families. The Indian sub-Continent is basically the same, so it is not religous.
    2. The cultural and religous traditions put such a great emphasis on the virginity and self-respect of women that it is a weapon. A woman can be accused of theft and argue her case but if she is charged with being a prostitute or an unmarried virgin, the stigma of the accussation remains even if one proves and argues to the ends of the earth to defend oneself.
    3. The military and police in Egypt as in many countries used the old world technique of legal-brutality as a deterent which starts of fine but of course gets out of control.
    4. Laws in countries like Egypt do not get updated to reflect modern times and standards and thus there can be laws that were created in the late 19th century still written in the old style. That is sometimes done on purpose and used/abused because it gives authorities the opportunity to actually take advantage and follow them. We have in Britain laws that are as old but in 1974 every law was updated to reflect the norms and standards of the time and strange laws such as shaving the head of truant schoolgirls in Manchester were obviously identified and scrapped. Egypt will have laws like that which will say something like women detained by the authorities whom are not escorted by their husbands or a close male relative must be checked for virginity to “protect them” from slanderous presumption of them having illicit affairs. At the time of writting it may in fact have protected them, but of course in this case it was an excuse to “torture” them, which is what I think it is.
    5. It is very clear that during the events in Egypt the military, police and other authorities were split between those that supported, those that did not, those that are typically power-hungry and those that do care – in this case those responsible were the wrong type and then used every excuse in the book to make people suffer.

    I am in Ceuta at present (a five minute walk over the bridge into Morocco) and in the Moroccan press this item has made the discussion round, I am told that such a law probably still exists there as well and the media is asking for a statement from the Ministry of Interior about it.

    D Charles QC

  2. Every day there’s another example of how depraved and abusive people can be. it makes one start to wonder why the world has gotten so much worse, but I don’t think it is worse, it’s just we’re better connected and hear about it all now.

    1. Hello Joleene,

      You hit it on the head. I remember not so long ago attending a lecture by famed war historian and journalist Sir John Keegan who basically said that war crimes, mass abuse by authoritarian regimes have always been there, that often the concept we know as Chivalry almost never existed, the only difference is that the media is not only free and present but omni-present. There is no more hiding.

      Though he was talking about war, in a sense it is about conflict and the ability to hide things – the horror of wars and massacres have always been there but the ability to “get away with it” is diminishing.

      D Charles QC
      Gibraltar