More than 2,000 victims of female genital mutilation have sought treatment at London hospitals in the past three years.
The figures, revealed by the Evening Standard, are the most dramatic illustration so far of the impact of this illegal and horrific practice on girls and women in the UK.
The report also revealed that 298 operations were performed to try to held women recover from the procedure.
Hundreds of others have received treatment in an attempt to ease their pain. Cases include one girl with an "open wound" and at least 12 more involving children. The statistics have been received from Freedom of Information requests to seven London hospital trusts with specialist services for FGM victims. They represent the most comprehensive measure yet of the problem. A total of 2,115 FGM patients were seen between 2010 and summer this year.
Doctors and campaigners said the findings were "horrifying" and called for a renewed drive by police, prosecutors and others to bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice. But they warned that the reluctance of some women to seek treatment and flaws in hospital record-keeping, including the lack of a specific code to identify FGM cases, mean that the true number of victims was certain to be even higher.
Dr. Comfort Momoh, a specialist in treating FGM, and who runs the African Well Woman’s Clinic at St Thomas’ Hospital, said, "These statistics show a very significant number of women are being treated for FGM, but there are still lots out there who are not being identified because they don’t know where to go for help, aren’t being referred by GPs or are too scared to come forward."
"I’m really worried about girls in particular. Where are they going to seek help? The GPs who are their first point of call often don’t have the knowledge. We also need teachers and lecturers to do more to at least signpost girls towards help," he added.
Dr Momoh said new guidelines from the Department of Health and medical professional bodies were essential, so that information about victims and girls at risk could be passed to social services and other agencies without deterring women from reporting their plight.
She added, "FGM can cause lifelong pain and the psychological impact can be really severe, with women suffering flashbacks every time they have sexual relations. Much more must be done to prevent it."
Efua Dorkenoo, of the charity Equality Now, said, "These figures highlight the horrifying scale of this criminal practice and prove, once again, that too little is happening to stop women and girls from suffering. This is a growing problem, which requires investment in prevention. The government needs to implement a national action plan, which recognizes the need to treat survivors physically and emotionally, but which also focuses on preventing FGM from happening in the first place."
Among the victims who have spoken out in a bid to prevent more girls suffering is Londoner Nimko Ali, 29. She was taken to Somalia to be cut at the age of seven and now runs the Daughters of Eve charity, which helps victims and girls at risk of mutilation.
"For too long, it has been passed off as a 'cultural' ritual. But this act is not about celebration. FGM is gender-based violence, it's as simple as that," Ali said.
Estimates have suggested 20,000 girls are at risk of being mutilated in England and Wales.
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