America, look across the pond at the U.K. to see the future of female genital mutilation.
In 1985, female genital mutilation was designated a crime in the U.K., punishable by 5–14 years in prison. Since October 2015, health care professionals, social care workers and teachers in England and Wales have been designated mandated reporters under the law and, accordingly, must report cases of female genital mutilation to authorities.
As a result, health care officials are closely tracking the explosion of female genital mutilation in the U.K. There are an estimated 137,000 girls in the U.K. at risk of female genital mutilation, although the extent of the number of girls at risk of undergoing the practice in the U.K. — or being taken overseas to be cut — is unknown.
This is a covert, organized crime, similar to human trafficking. Its perpetrators are family members who operate in darkness — in closed, secretive religious and immigrant communities, threatening their young victims into silence. Like trafficking, the female genital mutilation network operates in a parallel society, often traveling overseas to conduct its criminal activity.
Quilliam, a U.K.-based counter-extremist organization, recently reported that 5,391 new female genital mutilation cases were tracked in the U.K. from 2016–2017. Ninety-five percent of women and girls recorded in this latest data had undergone female genital mutilation before they were 18 years of age, and the age group of 5-to-9 years old was the most common age range at which female genital mutilation was performed.
Nearly 15 new female genital mutilation incidents are reported daily in the U.K. Some 9,000 women sought help for female genital mutilation complications from the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) in that 12-month period, and a third of women and girls seeking help were born in Somalia.
This U.K. female genital mutilation-driven health care crisis is not surprising. The barbaric practice of female genital mutilation not only mutilates female genitals, destroying sexual pleasure, but imposes a lifetime of nightmarish physical and psychological consequences. Female genital mutilation complications introduce new burdens to a national health care system and subjects its innocent victims to a lifetime of pain and trauma.
The U.K.-mandated reporting laws for female genital mutilation, along with its extensive health care and victim services network, capture the ongoing epidemic of female genital mutilation by tracking and identifying victims and providing referrals for victim assistance. The U.K. prosecution record, however, is abysmal, with virtually no successful prosecutions of offenders. Hence, with no female genital mutilation convictions, the practice grows unabated.
The U.S. is just beginning to grapple with the reality of female genital mutilation on its shores. Nevertheless, the female genital mutilation numbers in the U.S. are staggering and growing exponentially even without a U.K.-like reporting structure. In the U.S., female genital mutilation has been a federal felony since 1995, and 27 states have now criminalized this barbaric practice.
Since 1990, the Center for Disease Control has calculated female genital mutilation data in the U.S. As of 2012, the CDC estimates that 513,000 women and girls are at risk of female genital mutilation in the U.S. This shocking number does not include the huge increase of refugees and migrants into the U.S. in the past five years. This unaccounted influx of refugees originates from many female-genital-mutilation-practicing countries in Africa and the Middle East, which import their cultural and religious practices with them.
This latest U.S. estimate represents approximately a threefold increase in the overall number of women and girls at risk for female genital mutilation, according to the CDC, and a fourfold increase for girls younger than 18 years of age. The increase resulted from the fact that the U.S. population originating from female genital mutilation countries has risen sharply in recent decades. (See female genital mutilation practicing countries and U.S. immigrant population.)
The lessons from our British friends caution that female genital mutilation requires vigilance, mandated reporting, successful and aggressive prosecution, and societal and cultural condemnation. Without recognition of its prevalence and a comprehensive prevention and prosecutorial strategy to address female genital mutilation as a prohibited imported practice, America is doomed to follow the failed policies of Britain.
The first step is to criminalize this barbaric assault on children in every state, and to fearlessly define it; female genital mutilation is the intentional, covert, trafficking of female children for the purpose of physically assaulting them to ensure that they are robbed and denied sexual pleasure as women.
In the words of that great British statesman, Winston Churchill, “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.”
Elizabeth Yore is an international child advocate attorney and has worked for Oprah Winfrey as her child advocate. Yore was formerly the General Counsel at the National Center for Missing and Abducted Children and leads the national initiative.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.