Indonesian Women Police Recruits Face Degrading Virginity Check

The Indonesian National Police force female applicants to go through degrading and painful tests to prove their virginity, the Indonesian branch of Human Rights Watch has said. The examination includes an embarrassing, discredited and uncomfortable “two finger test” to determine if a woman’s hymens are intact, according to interviews with recruits who went through the process..

The human rights NGO said it had interviewed female police and applicants in six cities who had been forced to take the test, listed as a requirement on the official police recruitment website. Applicants who failed the tests, which are performed by women, are not necessarily expelled from the force, but all of the women interviewed by Human Rights Watch described the test as painful and traumatic.

Gender imbalance has long been an issue in the Indonesian National Police. The police have also been accused of sexism for using several attractive young female officers as TV personalities doing traffic reports in Jakarta.

When policewomen have raised the issue with senior police officials, they have at times been told the practice has been discontinued. But interviews by Human Right Watch found the test is still 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, Human Right Watch said. 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 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. There is no equivalent requirement for men obviously.

Two senior policewomen told Human Rights Watch that the test has long been given early in the recruitment process as part of the applicants’ physical exam. Police Medical and Health Center personnel conduct the tests primarily in police-operated hospitals.

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 which 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 stopped the tests, Human Rights Watch said. 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 tests have been going on at least since 1965, according to one retired policewoman, who said the test 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, Human Rights Watch said. 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 underwent a special seven-month training program in eight police training facilities on Java and Bali.

“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.”

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 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.

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.

Watch the HRW video here.