A new report accuses the Sri Lankan government of using abusive anal and vaginal virginity “tests” against members of the LGBTQ+ community. The report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Sri Lankan LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equal Ground describes the exams as “sexual violence” and a form of “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that can rise to torture.” The authors challenged the Sri Lankan authorities to end the abusive practices and stop the prosecution of adults who have consensual same-sex sexual relations.
“No one should be arrested, let alone subjected to torture and sexual violence, because of their perceived sexual orientation,” Neela Ghoshal, associate LGBT rights director at HRW, said in a statement. “Sri Lanka’s Justice Ministry should immediately bar judicial medical officers from conducting forced anal examinations, which flagrantly violate medical ethics as well as basic rights.”
One lawyer told HRW he represented 6 defendants in the last 12 months who were all subjected to anal exams which were later submitted in courts proceedings against them. One of the men he represented claimed to have been whipped with wires before being subjected to the humiliating exam, while three others were also forced to undergo testing for HIV. Another transgender man endured a “virginity test” where a junior medical officer used two fingers to digitally penetrate the man’s vagina.
Anal and vaginal virginity tests are universally discredited by medical experts as violating medical ethics and lacking any scientific basis. The World Health Organization views the exams as a form of torture and violence, while the World Medical Association has called on doctors and other medical providers to stop taking part in the practice. The Independent Forensics Experts Group, a group of forensic medicine specialists, said the examinations have “no value detecting abnormalities in anal sphincter tone that can be reliably attributed to consensual anal intercourse.”
The Sri Lankan penal code prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and “gross indecency between people.” These laws are used to criminalize same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults. HRW issued a report in 2016 which documented other laws used to target the LGBTQ+ community, including what they describe as a “vaguely worded Vagrancy Law and a penal code provision banning ‘cheating by personation’” which are then used to “target transgender and gender non-conforming people for arrest.” Sri Lankan police have used these laws to raid hotels and elsewhere to round up suspected LGBTQ+ persons for arrest and abuse. The 2016 report interviewed 61 LGBTQ+ arrested for violating the penal code, 16 of whom said they experienced physical or sexual assault, and even rape, by police.