Research project on Unwanted Intimate Examinations with Jonathan Herring, Camilla Pickles, and Marthe Goudsmit

Jonathan Herring, Camilla Pickles (Durham) and Marthe Goudsmit are working on a project on Unwanted Intimate Examinations.

As part of this project they are guest editing a special edition of the Journal of Gender-Based Violence, and are hosting a panel at the Feminist Approaches to Bioethics World Congress in Basel.

The project expands the 2020 edited book on unauthorised vaginal examinations, Women’s Birthing Bodies and the Law: Unauthorised Intimate Examinations, Power and Vulnerability. That collection was focused specifically on women’s experiences of vaginal examinations in hospital-based childbirth. The current project widens the scope, as unwanted intimate examinations are an issue of concern in many different contexts. The panel and special edition include perspectives and issues that were not addressed in the edited collection, but which are of equal concern.

The special issue expands focus to unwanted intimate examinations generally and explores broader links to patriarchy and power. It is vital to distinguish between ‘wanted’ and ‘unwanted’ touch. The unwanted intimate touch of the body of another person suggests a lack of agency on behalf of the person being touched, and expresses a diminished ownership claim over their body. However, where there is full consent, intimate examinations can be justified, and could for example be an effective part of good healthcare.

Consequently, this special issue aims to provide space for exploring contexts in which people may have been subjected to unwanted intimate examinations, and without their full consent, including (but not limited to) healthcare, imprisonment, and security. Traditionally, such conduct is experienced more by people marginalised by broader social and gender norms, including women; people of colour; and members of the LGBTQI+ community. Despite this, most interrogations of unwanted procedures approach the issue from a gender-neutral medical, sociological, philosophical, and legal perspectives, and focus on binary-type categories such as consented or unconsented examinations or informed or uninformed decisions about examinations.

The special issue and panel discussion will provide platforms to interrogate how patriarchal values and power more generally manifests in the broad context of unwanted intimate examinations. The panel and special issue aim to be a much-needed expansion of the study area of unwanted intimate examination and to offer a more inclusive conversation.