According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 150,000 to 200,000 girls in the U.S. are at risk of being forced to undergo cutting. The CDC says “at risk” because there are no actual records of the practice, only estimates – and old estimates at that. Its latest data date to 1997, the year after it was banned in the U.S.
But experts who work with victims and their communities say FGM is on the rise.
Immigration to the U.S. from countries in Africa quadrupled between 1990 and 2011 from 360,000 to 1.6 million according to a recent report released by New York City’s planning department.
And the more it rises, the more FGM and fatal exorcisms and honor killings there will be. The examples from the UK are glaringly clear.
Support for victims is also comparatively poor in the U.S., health workers say. Nour in Boston and Johnson in Arizona run the only two clinics dedicated to supporting FGM victims in the U.S.
Comparatively the U.K. – with only a fifth of the population of the U.S. – has 15 specialist clinics. British midwife Comfort Momoh, who runs one such operation, recently visited the U.S. to research American facilities.
Coming from Europe, where campaigners are making strides in turning FGM into a mainstream issue, Momoh was shocked to see “no proper coordination and hardly anywhere for girls to go for support,” she said. “The situation is well, well behind the U.K.”
And once we go full UK with a hotline and clinics and special laws, what then?
Reports that “cutters” are at work, some working in expensive private clinics, have come out of major cities including London, Birmingham and Bristol, says Sarah McCulloch, from the Agency for Culture and Change Management. “Wherever [ethnic minority] communities [that practise FGM] are residing, it is a problem,” she says. “Because why would they stop? Why should they stop? What will make them stop?
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and since 2003 anyone taking a child out of the UK to be cut faces 14 years in prison. However, there has yet to be a single conviction. Two people were arrested in November accused of carrying out FGM on a five-week-old baby but, according to the Metropolitan police, there was “insufficient evidence to proceed”.
“It’s becoming a lot more expensive to go home, so we have heard now that people are pooling together resources to bring a cutter over from abroad to mutilate their girls over here in a group. I think people will use whatever means they can if they are determined for this to happen.”
McCulloch agrees: “[Families] are forming a sort of co-operative to raise the funding to pay for someone to come from overseas. The family will bring all the girls together and it is done.
This is their religion and their culture. If we don’t want it, then we don’t want them. If we do want them, then we also want it.
It’s that simple.