yes, a forced smear is rape

On Monday October 26, 2020, we learned that Qatar Airways passengers had been forced to undergo invasive gynecological examinations, which can be qualified as rape. Reminder of what a gynecologist can impose on you (spoiler: nothing).

After the discovery of a premature newborn in the toilets of Doha airport, passengers on a Qatar Airways flight underwent forced and invasive body examinations, we learned on Monday October 26, 2020. The facts, which go back up on October 2, sparked a global scandal after being exposed by Australian passengers.

According to information from South West, "officials" have forced "women to undergo body exams, basically, forced Papanicolaou (smears) tests", to determine who was the mother of the dead baby. Which, as feminist author Valérie Rey-Robert pointed out on Twitter, corresponds to the definition of rape. As a reminder, in France, the article 222-23 of the penal code defines as such "any act of sexual penetration, of whatever nature, committed on the person of another or on the person of the perpetrator by violence, coercion, threat or surprise." This definition is equivalent in many countries around the world. But, and the comments below the tweet prove it, it is too often believed that a gynecologist would know better than the patient what is good for her, and is therefore entitled to perform the examinations judged. required.

The result of this belief: when faced with a doctor, we sometimes feel completely helpless and illegitimate to ask questions, ask for clarification or even refuse certain practices. However, these are steps at the heart of ethical medicine, one that truly takes into account the patient. A little reminder of what a gynecologist can or cannot do to you, a practitioner who touches the most intimate.

What can I accept or refuse during a medical consultation?

A medical consultation supposes the patient's consent and the explanations of the practitioner. It is in fact enshrined in French law. Article 36 of the Public Health Code provides that "theThe consent of the person examined or treated must be sought in all cases. When the patient, able to express his will, refuses the proposed investigations or treatment, the doctor must respect this refusal after having informed the patient of its consequences. "

In practice, this is not always the case. The Gyn and Co collective, created in response to numerous reports of gynecological violence, therefore lists on its site the rights of patients, rights often forgotten before the authority represented by the white coat. As for the Women's Foundation, it has created a document listing the rights of patients as well.

Sonia Bisch, spokesperson for the Stop aux Violences Obstétricales et Gynécologiques collective, recalls the importance of the law in this area, and in particular the Kouchner law on patients' rights, passed in 2002 with the aim of improving the rights of patients. sick: "We must ask you for the agreement before any examination, explain and talk to you about the possible alternatives, in order to be able to make an enlightened and free choice!"
She therefore recalls that you can legally refuse an exam: "We can refuse everything from the doctor! " . Sonia denounces the doctors who behave as all-powerful in front of their patients, forgetting the humanity of the woman behind: "there is a stranglehold on the medical sector as if we had more rights". In the category of examinations that can be refused, and which are not recommended before the age of 25: invasive examinations, such as gynecological smears. The same goes for episiotomy, this criticized practice: "When women give birth, for example, there is medical pressure to do episiotomies while medically it can be abusive, we recover less well from an episio than from a natural tear" protests Sonia. Another misconception that she denounces: you don't have to go to the gynecologist every year: "in other areas we go to the doctor when we are not well, why not do the same in the gynecology area?" The recommended frequency is about every three years.

As a general rule, Sonia recommends getting as much information as possible: "Do not hesitate to prepare your questions in advance, but also to find out for yourself, we cannot expect everything from the doctor! Find out, for example, about the recommendations of the Haute Autorité de Santé."
The spokesperson for the Collective against obstetrical and gynecological violence insists on the importance of knowledge to protect oneself: "The violence of practitioners is often when they were not familiar with the recommendations: they do not want to harm, yet you can harm a person without wanting to!"
Hence the importance also of knowing what the practitioner does not have to do.

What does the practitioner not have to do?

First point, recalled by the Gyn and Co collective on their blog: the gynecologist does not have to pass judgment on your body. This echoes the many cases of medical grossophobia encountered by patients who turn to the collective. Gyn and Co activists also give recommendations on what to do in case of abuse on their blog. It is also not mandatory to know your weight: you can ask the doctor to look for the number on the scale for himself.
It's also not normal to be completely naked! This happens due to the lack of time of the health professional who does not give the patients time to get dressed between two examinations; yet this is unethical which cares for the patient in a human way. Also note that there are special gynecological examination panties with slits so that you do not have to completely undress.

What can be the consequences of a pelvic examination where humanity and the patient's consent are not respected? They can be serious and lead to unreasonable self-loathing.
Sonia Bisch explains that this creates trauma similar to the trauma of rape: "even the use of painful forceps, an invasive practice without consent linked to the vagina even without intention to harm, it creates a trauma of rape, with post-traumatic stress behind: we have no more energy, we feel dirty, we do not sleep any more, it takes therapies to manage to cure that! "

Fortunately these cases are not the majority of gynecologist visits. An exam prepared with a participant recognized as benevolent avoids all this. Also note that midwives can take care of your gynecological follow-up.

What are the most frequent questions during gynecological exams?

The worst question is the one that is not asked. Sonia reiterates the importance of writing down all her questions before the meeting and of finding out beforehand if you can."There are questions that keep coming up, they are often the same, but it is important that professionals answer them!" recalls Sonia. A question that comes up a lot? "If we make love, can it hurt the baby?" (and fortunately it is not)!

To find out more about gynecological practices, Sonia recommends the following resources: Marie-Hélène Lahaye's blog, the Stop Violence Obstétricales et Gynécologiques collective, but also the Gyn and Co blog, which lists recommended caring caregivers. es by the community.