The Prohibition on Virginity Testing by UK Doctors
Virginity Tests, hymenoplasty, Criminal Offences, and UK Doctors
It is illegal for a UK doctor to undertake a virginity test on a female person in the UK. A doctor who performs a virginity test on a child (those under 18) or on an adult female or who aids or abets such a test will likely be guilty of an offence. The penalty for committing such an offence can be up to five years imprisonment.
It is also illegal for a doctor who is resident in the UK to undertake (aid or abet the performance of) a virginity test overseas.
Statutory Criminal Law
The scope of the criminal offence is set out in Part 5 of the Health and Care Act 2022. For a detailed description of the offence, see the UK government’s online guidance: Virginity testing and hymenoplasty: multi-agency guidance. (Online version as updated 17/10/23)
The guidance explains that under the Act:
“…virginity testing is any examination (with or without contact) of the female genitalia intended to establish if vaginal intercourse has taken place. This is irrespective of whether consent has been given.
The position of the World Health Organization and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is that virginity tests have no scientific merit or clinical indication as there is no known examination that can prove whether a woman has had vaginal intercourse.”
As to the prohibited procedure itself, the guidance states:
“The law defines ‘virginity testing’ as “the examination of female genitalia, with or without consent, for the purpose (or purported purpose) of determining virginity.”
The law defines ‘hymenoplasty’ as “the reconstruction of the hymen (with or without consent).”
The guidance also states:
“As well as women and girls, this legislation includes and protects any other person who has female genitalia (meaning vagina or vulva) and is at risk of harm from these practices and procedures, including intersex, non-binary, trans men and women, with or without a gender recognition certificate.”
It is also illegal in the UK to carry out, or aid or abet, a hymenoplasty (the reconstruction of a hymen for the purpose of indicating virginity). There are also extra-jurisdictional offences where a UK based doctor undertakes such procedures overseas.
Staying Within the UK Law
It is incumbent on any UK registered doctor that any legitimate vulval or vaginal examination or surgical procedure that is undertaken does not include prohibited virginity testing or prohibited hymenoplasty. Certain legitimate and lawful procedures such as surgery to treat an imperforate hymen to allow menstrual blood to escape would not be caught by the law. (This procedure is explicity mentioned in the UK guidance of 17/10/23, by way of an example.)
However, for a doctor to be acting within the law, they will need: a clear plan (that is in the patient’s interests and not the interests of others); to be working within accetpable policy parameters; a clear written record, if a doctor is to ensure that their conduct does not come into question.
The UK police will arrest, interview and prosecute those doctors who commit such offences or where it becomes apparent that they have committed such offences (including aiding and abetting) overseas – whether or not it is lawful to undertake such tests and procedures in the overseas country where the procedures take place.
GMC Investigations of UK Doctors Who Carry Out Virginity Tests and Hymenoplasty in the UK or Overseas
The GMC will investigate doctors where it comes to light that an offence has been committed. The GMC will rely on criminal convictions from anywhere in the world. Where there has not been a criminal conviction, by way of a misconduct investigation the GMC will scrutinise the allegations.
For guidance on police interviews, where a doctor is being interviewed in relation to the alleged commission of an offence relating to alleged virginity tests or hymenoplasty, see our article: Police Station Interviews
Trust Interviews (MHPS)
For guidance on NHS disciplinary investigations, NHS interviews, where a doctor is being interviewed in relation to conduct concerning alleged virginity tests or hymenoplasty, see our article: NHS Disciplinary Processes
If you are a doctor who seeks further legal or policy advice in relation to the UK criminal law (or the application of the UK’s extra-jurisdictional law) on virginity testing and hymenoplasty, contact Doctors Defence Service on 0800 10 88 739