The invisible crime of female genital mutilation

“Abused unchecked” report reveals zero convictions in 16 years, but maybe that’s because the law is far too unclear

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Despite being illegal in the United Kingdom since 1985, the Commons home affairs select committee has delivered a damning report that shows there hasn’t been a single conviction for female genital mutilation (FGM) in 30 years.

The report, titled ‘Abuse unchecked’, reveals that this is one area of law which “must be enforced with stronger sanctions.” The scale of the problem is still unknown throughout the UK because of a lack of reliable data, but experts suggest there could be as many as 170,000 women and girls living in the UK who have undergone the procedure.

The fear is that the lack of convictions is a self-perpetuating cycle, meaning that those made aware of cases of FGM are deterred from reporting it because they fear nothing will be done. Although the majority of the cases are believed to have taken place in Africa, as many as 18 took place in the UK.

The current law states that, not only is it illegal to perform FGM in the UK or assist someone to carry out FGM on themselves, it is also illegal to “assist a non-UK national or resident to carry out FGM outside the UK on a UK national or permanent UK resident.”


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With 5,702 new cases reported in England between April 2015 and March 2016, it is shocking that none of these cases led to a prosecution. One FGM case was brought to trial in 2015, but the defendant — an NHS doctor — was acquitted within 30 minutes in the face of claims that the Crown Prosecution Service brought the case under political pressure.

Critics have argued that the fundamental flaw in the law is that it is too vague.

How can we tell one group of people that their cultural practice is illegal when another group can simply pop to Harley Street for a similar procedure with a different name? The rise of ‘designer vaginas’ came under fire in 2015 when a group of MPs called for this form of cosmetic surgery to be classed as FGM. It’s a grey area that has long puzzled law students, and caused very public Twitter spats.

On paper, cosmetic surgery ‘down there’ should be classed as FGM, in the same way that genital piercings are recorded by the NHS as FGM. In reality, cosmetic surgery meets the World Health Organisation definition of FGM as being “injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. And yet this form of cosmetic surgery remains exempt. How long before we see a botched designer vagina leading to a cosmetic surgery claim that accuses the surgeon of FGM?

According to one campaign group, Equality Now, the focus of the discussion should be on prevention over prosecution. Making it easier for victims to come forward and better safeguarding of children who are at risk of becoming victims of FGM needs to be at the forefront of government plans.

Roman Winter is an aspiring freelance writer with an interest in law and politics.

Want to write for the Legal Cheek Journal? Find out more here.

Please bear in mind that the authors of many Legal Cheek Journal pieces are at the beginning of their career. We'd be grateful if you could keep your comments constructive.

22 Comments

Not Amused

“Down there”?

If you can’t face discussing female genitals then maybe you shouldn’t pretend to write about female genital mutilation.

The problem on this is very clearly the same problem we always have – lefty public sector workers are too worried about upsetting someone and being accused of being racist to protect my nation’s children.

We need root and branch public sector reform and an end to dominance of one political view point – because they have so demonstrably and so repeatedly failed.

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Litevsky of QTOI (The Quantum Theory of Insanity)

Now LC is removing the positive vibes? What’s wrong with a Vagina Inspector General? How you gonna get a conviction without the evidence?
Ya see how increased sanity in one thread leads to increased insanity in another? The truth is the FGMers dun want any help, just like Fathers for Justice. Why is this.

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Anonymous

“Please bear in mind that the authors of many Legal Cheek Journal pieces are at the beginning of their career. We’d be grateful if you could keep your comments constructive.”

Good luck with that.

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Litevsky of Vaginas

I already did Anon of 1019 but LC removed my suggestions.

1. A Vagina Inspector General, or Minister for Vaginas , whadever ya wanna call it. You gotta minister for women. So whatsa wrong widda minister for Vaginas?

Somebody gimme a positive vibe?
Be a seeker not a mocker. Justa e VC en one lil itsy bitsy positive vibe?

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Litevsky of Stop Female Circumcission

Lemme splaine Meepmeel. Female circumcission removes the capacity for clitoral stimulation.
For men , it’s like having your knob chopped off.
My second recommendation which was removed by LC was a duty to report.
We gotta duty to report money laundering, so whatsa wrong with a duty to report female circumcission?
Why is there no will be to tackle this serious issue and why does LC remove positive suggestions?

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Anonymous

Good start for an article but reads more like an extended introduction. Should be bulked out with further discussion of the issues and the law.

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Brid Hehir

‘With 5,702 new cases reported in England between April 2015 and March 2016, it is shocking that none of these cases led to a prosecution.’ It may shock Roman Winter that none of the cases led to a prosecution, but if he read the HSCIC report more carefully he’d learn that the vast majority of these girls/women had the procedure carried out elsewhere and are only ‘new’ in the sense that they were mostly, newly self-reported to the NHS because the NHS is now actively collecting data. There is so much scaremongering around FGM but the hype doesn’t live up to the reality – as I discuss on my shiftingsands dot org dot UK blog

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Anonymous

Negative waves Moriarty. Negative waves.
My 3rd suggestion, removed by LC was the prevention, detection and prosecution of those involved in FMG. LC dun wanna know.

Why not?

If I was minister of vaginas, I couldn’t succeed, because women are against me.
Any one know anything?
It is women who propagate FMG. You dun believe me? Try going into the Masaai Mara and the women will knock you senseless with traditional clubs.

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Isabella

If I were you, I would remain a single mom until I met someone else. You really want this guy picking up your kids and their friends from the movies on a Satduray night?

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Litevsky of African Jews

Anon of 405 was me. Litevsky. LC, Dun you know we take screen shots. I am not an anonymous intellectually challenged person.
FMG is a woman’s thing. It is not the business of men.
LC. Get Charlotte Proudman to do field research in the Masaai Mara. The women will kill her. The men will stand back because it is not their business.

The Kenyan police may escort her as FM G is illegal in Kenya.
But if the police try and enforce it, the women beat them, and it is a disgrace to be beaten by women. If the police don’t like that and try to brutalise Masaai women, then it becomes man’s business. Every Masaai warrior is armed with a Kalashnikov, a spear, a Greek sword and a throwing club.

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A sick mind on day-release

🎼 We wish you a vaginismus…

We wish you a vaginismus…

We wish you a vaginismus…

And a happy poo-beard🎤

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