I came across this news story on the British Medical Journal website the other day. I’ve never heard of this practice before, but it would be difficult to argue against this invasive and inappropriate examination method. In India, women who have been raped undergo a finger test to determine whether or not they are “habituated” to sex. If a woman experiences pain when the doctor inserts a finger (or two) in her vagina then she is determined to be “habituated” to sex, which is apparently a viable defense for the perpetrator in a court of law.
The “medical” results have obvious repercussions on the outcomes of these trials. I can’t help but be reminded of how medical evidence have been called upon to defend, uphold or legitimize unequal, discriminatory and exploitative relationships. Some immediate examples that come to mind – Drapetomania (an illness of slaves that caused them to run away) and Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) (what HIV was called when it was first discovered in the U.S. and was thought to occur only among gay men). This article cautions us to the use of medical evidence. Sometimes what we consider as acceptable medical evidence can be deployed to support political, social and economic structures rather than to address the health of a group of people.
Again, it’s often difficult to access the academic journals, so here’s a link to the original Human Rights Watch report.
Kmietowicz, Z. Group calls on India government to ban “degrading” finger test after rape. BMJ, 341:doi:10.1136/bmj.c4904 (Published 8 September 2010)
Dignity on trial: India’s need for sound standards for conducting and interpreting forensic examinations of rape survivors. New York: Human Rights Watch, 2010.