In a report released Monday, the organization said the continued use of the archaic practice, and reliance on the results by many defense lawyers and courts, perpetuates false, damaging stereotypes of rape survivors as "loose" women.
The procedure, described in outdated medical jurisprudence textbooks, involves a doctor inserting fingers in a rape victim's vagina to determine the presence or absence of the hymen and the so-called "laxity" of the vagina. Defense attorneys use the findings to challenge the credibility and character of the survivors.
"This test is yet another assault on a rape survivor, placing her at risk of further humiliation," said Aruna Kashyap, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The Indian government should heed demands of Indian activists to abolish this degrading and useless practice."
The report, "Dignity on Trial: India's Need for Sound Standards for Conducting and Interpreting Forensic Examinations of Rape Survivors," is based on interviews in Mumbai and Delhi with activists, rape survivors and their parents, prosecutors, other lawyers, judges, doctors and forensic experts. Research also included an analysis of 153 High Court judgments on rape that referred to finger-test findings.
HRW said the Indian government should prohibit the tests and align medical treatment and forensic examinations of sexual violence victims with rights to health, privacy, dignity, and legal remedy.
The rights organization said the government should introduce sensitivity programs for doctors, police, prosecutors and judges concerning the rights of survivors, as well as establish multidisciplinary teams in all government hospitals that are sensitive to survivors and can conduct tests that respect their rights.