NEW YORK (REUTERS) - New York lawmakers are considering setting up the nation's first ban on virginity testing, a practice common in many countries, legislators said on Tuesday (Dec 3), after a US rapper sparked controversy by saying he subjected his daughter to yearly exams.
The proposed measures in New York would prohibit doctors from checking whether a woman or girl's hymen, the thin tissue that may partially cover the vagina, is torn, in an effort to determine if she has had vaginal intercourse.
Such testing is traditional and documented in at least 20 countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which along with the United Nations has called for a global end to the practice.
"This medically unnecessary, and often times painful, humiliating and traumatic practice must end," it said last year.
The practice was not a highly public issue in the United States until rap musician T.I. recently said he subjected his 18-year-old daughter to yearly hymen exams.
"I was just appalled and disgusted," said Ms Michaelle Solages, a Democratic New York state assemblywoman who introduced a Bill last week to eradicate the practice.
"It's medically unnecessary, painful, humiliating, traumatic and a form of violence against women and girls," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A similar companion Bill was introduced in the state Senate, where it was being considered by the rules committee. The lower house version was before the Assembly's health committee.
No dates have been set for the Bills to proceed to floor debate or voting.
Under the proposals, the practice would be illegal.
Physicians who carry it out could face penalties or criminal prosecution and if it were performed outside a medical facility, it would be considered sexual assault.
The ban would be the nation's first, state lawmakers said.
Recent reporting by Marie Claire magazine and the Fuller Project, a non-profit journalist project that reports on women's issues, found no federal or state laws banning the practice in the United States.
The New York governor's office said it would support such a ban.
"This practice, as described, is disturbing, has no real medical value and should not be an option in this state, nor any state," Ms Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor and chairwoman of the State Council on Women and Girls, said in a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
While a hymen can be stretched or torn during sex, it can also rip during physical activity or use of a tampon, experts say. Also, not all girls are born with hymens, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The rapper who sparked the controversy later said his remarks were misunderstood and taken out of context.
The World Health Organisation said the practice was most established in Asia, the Middle East and in parts of Africa to assess the virtue and social value of unmarried girls and women.
"Virginity testing is rooted in entrenched systems of discrimination against women and girls," it said last year.
"It further reinforces socio-cultural norms that perpetuate women's inequality, including stereotyped views of female morality and sexuality, and serves to exercise control over women and girls."