The Egyptian military's use of so-called virginity tests against female democracy protesters in Tahrir Square is part of a long tradition of using sexual harassment as a tool of social control.
The ugly allegations of so-called "virginity tests" being deployed from the torture arsenal of the Egyptian military would be hard to believe if they didn't fit a longstanding pattern among Egypt's security forces: Using sexual harassment and torture centered around sexuality against government opponents.
Amnesty International broke the news with a report on the case of 18 women detained by the military for protesting at Tahrir Square on March 9. The women were held in makeshift detention facilities at the Egyptian museum, beaten, given electric shocks, strip searched while male soldiers photographed them, and finally administered the so-called test by a man in a white coat. They were told if they failed the "test" – a form of pseudoscience since it can't reliably determine if a woman is a virgin – they'd be charged with prostitution.
The story got a flurry of fresh attention after CNN carried a piece yesterday quoting an anonymous Egyptian general admitting the practice and using the "they were asking for it" defense.
"The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," the anonymous general told CNN. "These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and [drugs]... We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place."
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