Female genital mutilation is a crime in the US — so why is it rarely prosecuted?

Female genital mutilation is a crime in the US — so why is it rarely prosecuted?
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 200 million females alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM).  Aliens from the 30 countries where this practice is concentrated are immigrating to the United States, and a serious effort is not being made to prevent them from practicing FGM here.

UNICEF says that FGM is “concentrated in a swath of countries from the Atlantic Coast to the Horn of Africa...”  

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A map on page 26 of UNICEF’s statistical overview of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting shows the percentage of females 15 to 49 years of age who have undergone FGM in each country that has substantial FGM activity, but it also is performed on much younger females.

For instance, an Ethiopian woman had her external genitalia removed and her vagina sewn up when she was only seven days old. In the Ethiopian desert region of Afar, 90 percent of the females are subjected to FGM, many before their first birthday.   

WHO has designated four different FGM classifications:

Type 1: Partial or total removal of the clitoris;

Type 2: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the inner folds of the vulva, with or without excision of the outer folds;

Type 3: Narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal, which is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia to leave only a small hole; and

Type 4: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes.

FGM is performed with special knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades. Anesthetics and antiseptics are uncommon unless the procedure is performed by medical practitioners. 

By stripping sex of physical pleasure, it is thought the female’s libido will be reduced, her virginity safeguarded, and her marital fidelity ensured. Similar practices have occurred in the United States too. American physicians treated females for masturbation by removing their clitoris from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th century.  

The immediate effects of FGM may include blood loss, severe pain, and sometimes death.  Long-term health problems may include urinary infections, infertility, painful menstruation, and painful sexual intercourse. Women who have had FGM are significantly more likely to experience difficulties during childbirth, and their babies are more likely to die.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, more than 500,000 females in the United States are at risk of or have been subjected to FGM.  Forty percent of them live in five metro areas.

FGM has been a crime in America since 1996. Federal law provides that, “whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”  

The first federal FGM prosecution, however, was not filed until 2017, when two Michigan doctors and the wife of one of the doctors were charged with performing FGM on two seven-year-old girls.  

FGM is a crime under state law in 26 states, but I was not able to find examples of state prosecutions. Attempts to make it a crime in the remaining 24 states have met resistance. It can be difficult to separate attempts to end FGM from claims of Islamophobia.

In Maine, a Republican bill to criminalize FGM failed to pass in 2017 in part because FGM had been used in Maine to demonize immigrants and refugees from predominantly Muslim countries in Africa.  It would have made FGM a Class A crime, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of as much as $50,000. 

Maine has a population of approximately 12,000 people from Somalia, an officially Islamic country, and UNICEF estimates that 98 percent of the females in Somalia have had FGM.

But a survey of immigrant communities in Maine indicates that they recognize the need for such a law. More than 70 percent of participants said that FGM is harmful.  

Political correctness also is an issue. The New York Times would not use the term “Female Genital Mutilation” in its article about the Michigan doctors, except in a quote. The Times called the offense, “genital cutting,” despite the fact that the prosecution was based on a federal criminal provision entitled, “Female genital mutilation.”

According to Celia Dugger, the Times’ Health and Science editor, “genital cutting” was a “less culturally loaded” term than “FGM.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a woman’s rights activist, has said, “It is one thing to respect other cultures and religions, and quite another to turn a blind eye to cultural practices that violate the human rights of women and girls.”

The federal and state laws that prohibit FGM need to be enforced.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years; he subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.