(Jakarta) – The Indonesian government subjects female applicants for Indonesia’s National Police to discriminatory and degrading “virginity tests,” Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch interviewed female police and police applicants in six Indonesian cities who had undergone the test, two of them in 2014. Applicants who “failed” were not necessarily expelled from the force, but all of the women described the test as painful and traumatic. Policewomen have raised the issue with senior police officials, who have at times claimed the practice has been discontinued. But the test is listed as a requirement for women applicants on the official police recruitment website, and Human Rights Watch interviews suggest it is still being widely applied.
“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. “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.”
The tests contravene National Police principles that recruitment must be both “nondiscriminatory” and “humane,” and violate the international human rights to equality, nondiscrimination, and privacy. Coerced “virginity tests” can also constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment prohibited under international law.
Between May and October 2014, Human Rights Watch interviewed eight current and former policewomen and applicants, as well as police doctors, a police recruitment evaluator, a National Police Commission member, and women’s rights activists. Interviews were conducted in the cities of Bandung, Jakarta, Padang, Pekanbaru, Makassar, and Medan. All of the women who had undergone the test said it was applied to all other women in their police class as well.
The “virginity tests” are conducted under Chief Police Regulation No. 5/2009 on Health Inspection (Pemeriksaan Kesehatan) Guidelines for Police Candidates. Article 36 of the regulation requires female police academy applicants to undergo an “obstetrics and gynecology” examination. While the regulation does not specify that a “virginity test” is to be administered as part of the exam, two senior policewomen told Human Rights Watch that it has long been the practice. The test is given early in the recruitment process as part of the applicants’ physical exam. Police Medical and Health Center (Pusat Kedokteran dan Kesehatan) personnel conduct the tests primarily in police-operated hospitals. Human Rights Watch found that the examination has included the discredited and degrading “two-finger test” to determine whether female applicants’ hymens are intact.
A memo produced in 2012 by an international organization that has assisted with National Police Reform Training quotes a July 2008 letter by a senior National Police official to the elite Police Academy in Semarang in which he describes the need to inspect female candidates’ hymens to ensure their virginity. In October, National Police High Commissioner Sri Rumiati told Human Rights Watch that in 2010 the then-head of police personnel, Brig. Gen. Sigit Sudarmanto, agreed to abolish virginity testing. A police general at the Medical Center claimed the test was no longer applied.
There is little evidence, however, that the National Police have taken steps to stop the tests. Indonesia’s National Police jobs website states, as of November 5, 2014, that, “In addition to the medical and physical tests, women who want to be policewomen must also undergo virginity tests. So all women who want to become policewomen should keep their virginity.” Married women are not eligible for the job.
The administration of such tests is a longstanding practice – one retired police officer said her class of female recruits in 1965 had to undergo the test – and has lasting effects. As one woman told Human Rights Watch, recalling her test in 2008: “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.”
The National Police plans a 50 percent increase in the number of policewomen, to 21,000 by December. With a force of about 400,000 police officers, the additional hiring will increase the percentage of women on the force from 3 percent to 5 percent.
In April, the National Police initiated an unprecedented mass recruitment drive in which 7,000 female cadets have undergone a special seven-month training program in eight police training facilities on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali.
Yefri Heriyani, director of the women’s rights group Nurani Perempuan in Padang, West Sumatra, who has encountered numerous female police applicants over the past 12 years, said that the virginity tests had left many of those women traumatized: “These policewomen experience trauma and stress while doing the virginity tests, yet [the National Police make] no clear attempt to help them recover. No effort is made to help them out of their stress and trauma. Consequently, it will affect their lives in the long term. Many of them blame themselves for taking the test.”
Human Rights Watch has documented the use of abusive “virginity tests” by police in several other countries including Egypt, India, and Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch has previously criticized calls for “virginity tests” for school girls in Indonesia, both as human rights violations and for being subjective and unscientific.
“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.”
A Longtime Practice
A retired policewoman, Dr. Irawati Harsono, now a lecturer at the Graduate School of Police Sciences in Jakarta, told Human Rights Watch that she had expressed her objections to the “virginity test” with the National Police’s then-head of personnel, Mochammad Sanoesi, in 1980. She said Sanoesi, who became the National Police chief in 1986 before retiring in 1991, did not respond to her call for abolishing the practice.
A memo produced in 2012 by an international organization that has assisted with National Police Reform Training quotes a July 2008 letter by a senior National Police official to the elite Police Academy in Semarang in which he describes the need to inspect female candidates’ hymens to ensure their virginity.
The requirement has spawned numerous books and videos by so-called specialists who advise female police applicants on taking the “test.” An Indonesian blogger, Anhar Wahyu, in his book Buku Persiapan Masuk TNI dan POLRI (“Preparation to Enter the Armed Forces and National Police”), provides tips to female applicants on how to ensure they pass the virginity test as well as how to respond if they “fail” the test.
“Virginity tests” have been recognized internationally as a violation of human rights, particularly the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” under article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 16 of the Convention against Torture, both of which Indonesia has ratified.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors compliance with the covenant, states in a General Comment that the aim of article 7 is “to protect both the dignity and the physical and mental integrity of the individual.” Article 7 relates not only to acts that cause physical pain, but also to acts that cause mental suffering to the victim. Coerced virginity testing compromises the dignity of women, and violates their physical and mental integrity.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other human rights treaties prohibit discrimination against women. Because men are not subjected to virginity testing, the practice constitutes discrimination against women as it has the effect or purpose of denying women on a basis of equality with men the right to work as police officers.
Indonesian Police Applicants Speak Out on ‘Virginity Testing’
A 24-year-old woman who took the test in Makassar in 2008 told Human Rights Watch:
For the test, 20 applicants were told to enter an examination room in Makassar’s Bhayangkara police hospital. We were ordered to strip to our underwear in three minutes. The medical staff then checked our eyes, nose, teeth, spine alignment, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids.
Then we were told to enter a separate room without a door. The medical staff performed the “two-finger” test on two candidates [at a time] in the room.
Even just entering the room was very scary because we had to undress while there were 20 people in the room. We didn’t know each other. Entering the virginity test examination room was really upsetting. I feared that after they performed the test I would not be a virgin anymore. They inserted two fingers. It really hurt. My friend even fainted because ... it really hurt, really hurt.
A 19-year-old woman who took the test in Pekanbaru in 2014 told Human Rights Watch:
I did the health test in a hall at the State Police School (Sekolah Polisi Negara) building. They put up a curtain so that outsiders could not look inside. My group of about 20 girls was asked to enter the hall and was asked to take off our clothes, including our bras and underpants. It was humiliating. Only those who had menstruation can keep [wearing] underpants.
Our group was the last one that day. The medical staff was probably already exhausted. … We’re asked to sit on a table for women giving birth. A female doctor did the virginity test ... the “two-finger” test.
I was not nervous. I am confident that I am still a virgin. When the virginity test ended, we were asked to put on our clothes.
I don’t want to remember those bad experiences. It was humiliating. Why should we take off our clothes in front of strangers? Yes, [the virginity testers] were women, but they were total strangers. It was discriminatory. It is not necessary. I think it should be stopped.
An 18-year-old woman who took the test in Bandung in 2013 told Human Rights Watch:
I was told that there was a health examination as a prerequisite to enter the police force. I learned about the virginity test only when I was about to take the physical examination and [was told] that there is an “internal examination.” At first I didn’t know that it was the virginity test.
The selection committee told the applicants just before the “internal examination” that we could resign from the selection process if we did not want to go through with the virginity test. But, most of us had gone through so much preparation for the requirements [to apply to be a policewoman]. I felt I had no power to object because if I refused to undergo the virginity test, I would not be able to enter the police force.
Twenty female applicants were told to enter a hall for the physical examination. They were then told to enter a room and told to lie down. The medical staffer, a female, then carried out the “two-finger” test. I am humiliated and scared for having to do the virginity test. There were candidates who fainted due to the stress.
High Commissioner Rumiati, the police psychologist now teaching at the Graduate School of Police Sciences in Jakarta, told Human Rights Watch:
I joined the police in 1984 via student military service. I underwent the virginity test in the Army hospital in Semarang because, between 1965 and 2002, the police and the military were part of a single command.
Later as a psychologist, I became involved in the police recruitment process and protested internally against the virginity test for female cadets. I love my institution. I want the National Police to uphold the laws. Many Indonesian laws – the Constitution, the 1984 law to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the 1999 human rights law – ban discrimination against women. How can the National Police enforce Indonesian laws when they themselves are not obeying the laws of the land?
In 1997, I participated in a parliamentary hearing on this practice along with women’s rights defender Nursyahbani Katjasungkana. Unfortunately we did not succeed in having parliament recommend banning the test.
In 2010, Brig. Gen. Sigit Sudarmanto, then human resources assistant to the police chief, organized a technical meeting on the recruitment of new police cadets. I raised the issue again, asking all the police recruitment teams to stop the virginity test. But my colleagues, including those working for the Medical and Health Center, opposed me on moral grounds. They said, “Do we want to have prostitutes joining the police?”
Is there scientific evidence that a woman who is not a virgin will be less productive than a virgin? Is there scientific evidence that a woman who is not a virgin will be automatically worse than a virgin? The meeting concluded with General Sigit asking that the test be stopped. I don’t know why it’s still taking place.
Veryanto Sitohang, executive director of Aliansi Sumut Bersatu, a nongovernmental organization based in Medan, and an external member of the North Sumatra police recruitment team in 2006-2008, told Human Rights Watch:
I was working on women’s and children’s rights when the police commander in [North Sumatra’s] Dairi regency nominated me to be one of a five-member external team in recruiting police cadets, male and female. The other [team] members included a doctor, a psychiatrist, and academics.
We learned that there was a virginity test as part of the process [for women]. The test was conducted at the Bhayangkara police hospital in Medan. It was supervised by police doctors in Bhayangkara. I recommended to the internal team, whose members are all police officers, not to do [the test]. It’s obviously a violation of these young women’s rights. It should be stopped. The internal team said they would consider my input, but that [the test] was one of the criteria established by National Police headquarters. They did it anyway. I wrote my objection. But apparently it did not stop the degrading test.