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Letter From Turkey
August 4, 1999

Virginity Examinations in Turkey: Role of Forensic Physicians in Controlling Female Sexuality

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Physicians for Human Rights, Boston, Mass (Ms Frank and Dr Iacopino); Program on Forced Migration and Health, Center for Population and Family Health, The Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY (Ms Frank); Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of California, San Francisco (Dr Bauer); and Forensic Medicine Department, Istanbul University, Istanbul, Turkey (Drs Arican and Korur Fincanci).


Edited by Annette Flanagin, RN, MA, Managing Senior Editor.

JAMA. 1999;282(5):485-490. doi:10.1001/jama.282.5.485

Context Although the Turkish Medical Association has deemed "virginity examinations" a form of gender-based violence, women in Turkey are often subjected to such examinations by forensic physicians for both legal and social reasons. Little is known about these physicians' role and attitudes in this practice.

Objectives To assess forensic physicians' experiences and attitudes regarding virginity examinations in Turkey and suggest potential solutions to the problems identified.

Design Cross-sectional self-administered survey.

Setting Surveys were completed during the Forensic Science Congress held in Kusadasi in April 1998 as well as in urban academic and medical practice settings between April and October 1998.

Participants Of 158 physicians who practice, are formally trained in, or are in training for forensic medicine, 118 completed the survey (response rate, 74.7%).

Main Outcome Measures Frequency and circumstances of conducting virginity examinations, opinions regarding beneficial and adverse consequences of these examinations, and recommendations for changing the practice, as measured by a 100-item questionnaire.

Results Overall, survey respondents reported conducting 5901 examinations in the previous 12 months; 4045 were conducted because of alleged sexual assault and 1856 for social reasons. Although 68% of forensic physicians indicated that they believed virginity examinations are inappropriate in the absence of an allegation of sexual assault, 45% had conducted examinations for social reasons. The majority of the respondents (93%) agreed that the examinations are psychologically traumatic for the patient. In addition, more than half (58%) reported that at least 50% of patients undergo examinations against their will.

Conclusions Nearly half of forensic physicians in Turkey conduct virginity examinations for social reasons despite beliefs that such examinations are inappropriate, traumatic to the patient, and often performed against the patient's will. Physicians' participation in such practices is inconsistent with principles of bioethics and international human rights.