Accepted Paper:

Policing virginity: gendered moralities and sexual surveillance in Indonesia  


Sharyn Davies (Monash University)

Paper Short Abstract:

In 2014 Human Rights Watch objected to the invasive and humiliating two-finger virginity test Indonesian women police recruits undergo. Drawing on ethnographic research, this paper explores ways in which both discourses of morality and surveillance techniques shape sexuality in Indonesia.

Paper long abstract:

Discourses of morality combine with surveillance techniques to shape sexuality. While these processes are often obscure and subtle, we tangibly see them at work on the bodies of young Indonesian policewomen. Women wishing to become police officers must be never-married virgins between the ages of 17.5 and 22. Male recruits are not expected to be virgins. International outrage was expressed late in 2014 when Human Rights Watch objected to the invasive and humiliating two-finger virginity test that women recruits undergo. Defiant in the face of international furore, police officials argued for the importance of the test on morality grounds. One official justified virginity testing as a way of ensuring prostitutes did not join the force. Policewomen recruited on the basis of sexual purity are then deployed to work with victims of sexual crimes; such a dynamic creates a problematic moral and experiential gap between those women who are victims of crime and those who are expected to support them.

Women recruited through a frame of purity go on to enforce and maintain sexual hierarchies within the police force. Techniques of power, including promotion and social acceptance, encourage policewomen to continue moral surveillance both of themselves and others. In an ironic twist, policewomen are thus the moral surveillers of society at the same time as they being surveilled. Through a specific ethnographic focus on gender and sexual morality in the police force, this paper speaks to broader issues of gendered moralities and sexual surveillance in the Indonesian context.

Panel Hier03
Contestations of gender, sexuality and morality in contemporary Indonesia