When Naz was about to get married, the groom’s family demanded a virginity check and she was sent to a London clinic. Now, her story and others are being told in ITV’s latest documentary looking into these profitable procedures.
Content warning: this article describes sexual abuse.
It was the start of what would become an abusive forced marriage, ‘Naz’ (her name has been changed for the purpose of the documentary) explains. Having escaped from that marriage a number of years ago, she shares her story in ITV’s Britain’s ‘Virginity’ Clinics Uncovered. Doing so, though, puts her at risk as her family is still looking for her years later.
“When I was 18, that’s when the marriage proposal came from my first cousin,” Naz says.
The groom’s family immediately demanded a virginity check before the wedding, so her parents took her to London for a test. They told her she was seeing a doctor for her mental health.
“I never thought I was going for a virginity test. I repeatedly said, ‘Why are you telling me to lie down?’”
The doctor then told her to undress and take her trousers off. Threatening to bring her father in if she didn’t cooperate, she did so.
“He told me to spread my legs and he said he was going to gently put his fingers inside to check on something.”
Confused and agitated, she turned to the female doctor and pleaded with her to answer her question. Why was she here? What was happening? The doctor then confirmed that Naz was actually having a virginity test.
She hoped she could stop the intrusive examination by blurting out the truth. She told them: “You don’t need to do a virginity test on me, because I’m not a virgin.” But the doctor ignored her and proceeded.
“You feel like you are dead,” Naz recalls, her voice shaking. “Putting his fingers inside, disgusting. Really, really disgusting.”
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Angry and shaken after the ordeal, Naz then had to face the wrath of her family after the examination. They knew the truth: she wasn’t a virgin.
Naz explains: “At the front of the clinic, my dad, he had a smile on – a fake smile on his face and he said, ‘Don’t worry.’”
But once they got home, things took a violent turn: “My dad started hitting me so badly I couldn’t even get out of the bed for a week.”
“I felt like I had no control over my life,” Naz describes and explains that her life felt “so cheap” being a girl.
“It’s really hard for girls to come out and speak because they’re going against their family, they’re going against their cultural beliefs,” says Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom Charity, which helps rescue women from honour-based abuse and was one of the first places Naz turned to.
She explains how these women often have no money and nowhere to go and, since lockdown, the number of women seeking help because of fears about virginity testing has risen by 40%.
“More and more girls and women are reaching out to us for help and support.” With an increased demand for certificates and official documents stating a girl’s virgin status, Prem says this is to blame for the influx of women needing help.
Naz was in her early 20s when she failed her virginity test, but just a few weeks later, she was taken back to the same doctor in London.
According to her parents, he would “make her a virgin again”.
Naz explains how she didn’t want someone to come and invasively touch her again. “They put me to sleep, sedated me when they did the procedure because I was very aggressive”.
“They said I was kicking them”.
Despite the hymen repair surgery, also known as a hymenoplasty, Naz didn’t bleed on her wedding night. When she admitted to her in-laws that she had the surgery, her father again became violent and said that Naz was “bringing shame on him and the whole family”.
Forced to remain in the marriage for two and half years, Naz suffered domestic abuse and violence. Eventually, she escaped, but she is still living with the memories of her traumatic past.
“Once or twice a week, I’m having a bad nightmare. I can’t sleep.
“I still haven’t recovered, not only from the virginity test but the hymenoplasty as well as the domestic violence.”
Although the government has been moving to change the law and finally end virginity testing, the law will not extend to Scotland, Northern Ireland or include hymen repair surgery. While many women have voiced their stories and condemnation of the procedure, reporter and documentary host Sahar Zand also asks whether the law would just be a “quick fix to a much deeper problem”.
As Zand states at the beginning of the documentary: “It’s a story of clinics selling unscientific tests for cash,” and thus, is all about the profitability of virginity.
Even as these operations face a potential ban, ITV manages to find a doctor who confidently admits he would still continue to perform hymenoplasties – just under a different medical name so as not to be caught.
The conversation around virginity and female hymens should, plainly put, be a simple one. ITV’s latest documentary Britain’s ‘Virginity’ Clinics Uncovered shows that in certain situations, it’s far from the case.
Watch Naz’s full story in ITV’s Britain’s ‘Virginity’ Clinics Uncovered on ITV Hub now.