I was disgusted to read recently that the rapper T.I subjects his daughter to the degrading ritual of “virginity testing”. I couldn’t decide if he was protecting a higher bride-price for his daughter in the marketplace or callously demonstrating his power over a woman by forcing his will on her rights to her own body. Probably both, I concluded, as he apparently encourages promiscuity in his own son. Then again, perhaps the whole point was to generate publicity for a new music video in which case he was ill-advised by his publicist. “Any publicity is good publicity” is not true when it draws the fury of so many in an age when sociopaths like this are rightly in the spotlight. 

The idea that that women are “sluts” for having sex while men are celebrated for their sexual exploits pervades the thinking of my parent’s generation and the ones before, and is still prevalent today as we see here, certainly among some parts of our multi-cultural melting-pot.

I add my own voice to the wrath of so many women who rose up in protest at his medieval-inspired sexual assault on his daughter. For him and the misogynist morons who think he is “cool” – shame on you all. You are throwbacks to an age most of us have moved on from and your sneering defence of your claims over a woman’s body mark you as the worst kind of human beings.

This vile man is not alone and never has been. Attaching value to a woman’s virginity is an age-old belief which has played a pivotal role in perpetuating hideous practices such as trafficking children for sex.  This man’s actions simply reconfirm interest in the whole virginity issue by reinforcing a claim of male ownership of a woman’s body and what she does with it.

It is not hard to trace the link between that man’s pathetic power-game to other young girls trafficked and raped – and let’s call it for what it is – because these attitudes have everything to do with young girls and sex-trafficking. Even more so in countries afflicted with severe poverty and an ingrained gender inequality. But what role does virginity play in all this?

Firstly, in many developing countries, women are still treated like commodities. Perpetuated by myths among their men that sex with virgins gives them “magical superpowers”, virginity is big business. The belief that sex with virgins increases male vigour has long been popular among powerful men in Asia, including people like Mao Zedong and North Korea’s Kim family of dictators. Even the idea that HIV/AIDS can be cured as a result of having sex with a virgin has been identified as a factor in the rape of babies and children in South Africa. These myths, posing as conventional wisdom, just reinforce the sexual subjugation of women as necessary to satisfy men’s power needs. Almost unbelievably, some families trying to survive in poverty have daughters purely for the purpose of selling them to men. 

Secondly, the children being sold are becoming younger and younger. The buyer needs to be sure that, in fact, he will be purchasing a virgin’s magic powers, and not being tricked into buying a child who is not pure, so girls as young as four years old are often on offer. This request for proof of purity has been around for generations, in many cultures, and shows little sign it is out of fashion in some quarters apparently, if the likes of the abusing T.I. is any guide, despite the truth that this test has absolutely no value or is proof of anything except as evidence of sexual assault.

Do not rest easy, because there is no “we are better than that” defence for western cultures either. What motivates the western sex-tourism paedophiles and people like (happily ex) Jeffrey Epstein and his Royal, Presidential, entertainment and business accomplices is probably much the same.  

Through the centuries the stereotypes reinforcing attitudes about virginity have ingrained themselves subtly and sometimes forcefully into our psyches. They appear as religious dogma about a virgin birth, in the Lourdes miracle, in Joan of Arc dramas as well as in the Madonna/whore complex of Freudian psychology, to quote just a few examples.  The virginity myth also shows up in the form of humorous clichés: from the ritual checking of the sheets after the first night by the groom’s parents in some comedy classics – and for real in some Eastern European cultures where the “Red Apple” check is essential to retain family pride – to the primae noctis of feudal  lords to take the virginity of newly wedded women in movies like “Robin Hood”, to a vampire Countess needing to drink the blood of a virgin in order to keep her eternal beauty in “Love at First Bite”.  The list is endless and disturbing when collated as cultural mores about virginity generally.

Recent discussion in pop culture, in part generated by rapper T.I’s Trumpian egoism I suspect, has again added an unhealthy value to virginity, which will undoubtedly drive up sales in the black market of the child sex trafficking industry, increasing a child’s profitability to their sellers.

My personal stance is that I will continue to push for the rescue and protection of young girls and our rights to our own bodies. The cultural conditioning we have received for thousands of years is not going to be undone overnight, I know this, but that is no reason to sit back and deny the inequalities and obscenities it has created in our modern world, and the very real dangers for innocent children born into a world of poverty where their virginity is their only marketable value. These children deserve their childhood and a future where they can dream – and achieve those dreams – and every voice should be lifted in protest at these grotesque crimes.

Written by Tiffany Shen in collaboration with Jessica Radcliffe.