Uncovering the ‘Virginity Testing’ Controversy in the National Archives: The Intersectionality of Discrimination in British Immigration History
Article first published online: 21 MAR 2011
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Gender & History
Volume 23, Issue 1, pages 147–165, April 2011
How to Cite
Smith, E. and Marmo, M. (2011), Uncovering the ‘Virginity Testing’ Controversy in the National Archives: The Intersectionality of Discrimination in British Immigration History. Gender & History, 23: 147–165. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0424.2010.01623.x
- Issue published online: 21 MAR 2011
- Article first published online: 21 MAR 2011
This article explores the practice of ‘virginity testing’ by British immigration officers in the late 1970s through the internal documents of the Home Office held at the National Archives in London. By analysing these documents, we argue that the ‘virginity testing’ controversy demonstrates the intersectionality of discrimination faced by migrant women from the Indian subcontinent attempting to enter Britain in the 1970s. Previous discussions of the practice have focused on either the dimension of ‘race’ or gender as the determining factor behind this invasive procedure, but this article shows that both dimensions are of equal importance in explaining why immigration officers undertook ‘testing’ for virginity during border control investigations. The emphasis within the immigration control system on preventing ‘bogus’ migration informed how immigration officers processed potential migrants and this framework of suspicion allowed the practice of ‘virginity testing’ to occur.