Even though Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been illegal in the United States since 1996, the FBI says more than 500,000 women and girls across the country are at risk of undergoing the barbaric procedure.
A recent report published this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the number of women and girls at risk in the U.S. was much higher than previously thought. Nearly one-third of those at risk are under the age of 18.
Those most at risk are from African and Muslim immigrant communities, specifically concentrated in major cities like New York, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
FGM includes all procedures involving partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Short-term complications can include hemorrhaging, pain, shock, and even death, while long-term complications include formation of cysts, problems with sexual intercourse and giving birth, chronic pelvic infection and sterility.
The trauma of FGM often lasts a lifetime and can cause depression and anxiety, among other psychological problems.
FGM reduces or eliminate sexual pleasure for the victim.
The FBI is now proactively investigating tips and leads on this illegal practice. Investigators are hoping victims and community members who are opposed to it will come forward and report cases.
“We believe some of it is being conducted by medical practitioners—physicians, nurses, midwives—and some by female elders within the communities who have the distinction of being what is called a cutter,” said Special Agent Kerry Sparks, who focuses on FGM cases as part of the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit (IHRU).
In a statement, the UN said of the practice, “It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls.” The UN estimates that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM.
After legislation banning FGM was passed in the U.S., many girls were sent abroad to their (or their parents’) countries of origin during their summer to undergo FGM in what is called “vacation cutting.” To address this practice, in 2012, Congress passed additional legislation, the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act, making travel for the purpose of FGM illegal.
Unfortunately, according to the FBI, it is a rare occasion when someone steps forward to report a case of FGM . “A lot of our efforts focus on increasing community awareness,” said Thomas Bishop, chief of the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit. “We want people to know that the FBI is committed to preventing FGM within the United States.”
In 2005, two people in California pleaded guilty to charges related to a plot to allegedly perform FGM on two minors. In 2006, an Ethiopian man living in Georgia was convicted on charges of aggravated battery and cruelty to children for performing FGM on his 2-year-old daughter.
The FBI is urging anyone who has information about an individual who is suspected of assisting or facilitating to contact them at tips.fbi.gov.