In a landmark case that shook the country, a Detroit doctor was arrested by the FBI in 2017 for female genital mutilation. Investigators reported that that the doctor, together with another doctor and his wife, were performing this procedure on young girls. As members of Dawoodi Bohra, a group of Muslims from India, female genital mutilation prevails as a practice for this community, which is 1.2 million strong around the world.
The doctors in this case, a first in US history, were initially charged with conspiracy to transport minors across state lines with the intent to engage in any criminal sexual activity, however, the charge was dismissed on the grounds that cutting the genitalia did not qualify as a criminal sexual activity. The group was then charged with the sex crime of female genital mutilation, conspiracy and aiding and abetting, and pled not guilty.
While children's rights attorneys work to find a verdict that would protect children from falling victim to female genital mutilation, defense attorneys believe that groups such as Dawoodi Bohra and others who participate in this practice, just as those who have practiced circumcision on boys for many centuries.
Female Genital Mutilation: A Woman's Identity
It is estimated that in excess of 500,000 girls in the US are at risk of becoming female genital mutilation victims.
Also referred to as female circumcision or female genital cutting, FGM is a ritual removal of a portion of or all of the woman's or girl's external female genitalia. Typically a religious practice, it can also be done for cosmetic and other non-medical reasons.Female genital mutilation has been made illegal in many countries, where it is reviled as an egregious violation of the basic human rights of female children and young woman.
The practice was banned in the US in 1996, and this case is the first federal case of FGM since then. The practice is a five-year federal offense with no state laws against it in Michigan, where the procedure took place. The defence argued that the doctors were persecuted for their religious beliefs. Furthermore, they argued that the procedure did not involve mutilation, but rather a small, harmless nick.
Female circumcision has been a longstanding tradition in many religions and cultures, and in some groups, it is unimaginable to not have it. The practice heralds a child's entry into adulthood. In some cultures, the labia and clitoris are considered male parts, and as such, removing these parts can make a woman more feminine.
Furthermore, as with male circumcision, there are health and hygiene reasons for women to undergo female circumcision. In some cultures, it is believed that it is impossible for uncircumcised women to conceive. They also believe that the labia are not removed, it will continue to grow until it hangs down between her legs. In some cultures, uncircumcised women are banned from handling water or food, because they believe that the female genitalia are unclean.
In these cultures, it is a matter of religious belief, and not a crime. The cleansing process removes extra skin from the clitoris and labia minora in the process of helping young girls to become women. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers female circumcision - a procedure practiced in thirty countries, and which more than 200 million women have undergone - a violation of rights of the female children and adult women who undergo the procedure. They believe that it presents physical, emotional and mental harm, and that it can lead to medical complications.
According to the WHO, female genital mutilation as a practice is reflective of a deep-rooted inequality that exists between men and women, and it constitutes an outrageous form of discrimination. The organization views it as a cultural practice, rather than a religious one, which:
- is an important coming-of-age ritual for a girl's transition to adulthood.
- is imbued with female circumcision makes a woman sexually pure (proves virginity).
- adds a sense of community or cultural identity.
Additionally, they believe that it is a gross violation of the rights of children, as it is almost always performed on minors. However, bioethics think tank, The Hastings Center condemned the World Health Organization's portrayal of genital surgery as abusive, harmful and savage, saying that studies have shown that:
Women who have undergone genital surgery continue to enjoy normal sex lives.
Medical and reproductive complications are rarely linked to female genital surgery.
Women who have opted for female genital surgery do not view it as mutilation, but as aesthetic enhancement.
According to John-Stewart Gordon, a bioethicist at the Vytauto Didziojo University in Lithuania, it is possible to make the removal of the clitoris foreskin compatible with universal human rights demands. In communities where a woman's acceptance into society depends on whether she has been circumcised, denying her that human right could result in severe social and personal harm.
Girls often choose to be circumcised. In order to become true members of a tribe, they have to share the experience of female circumcision with their friends. The path to becoming a real woman is associated with pain and often life-threatening circumstances, but the process is necessary in order to gain the respect of the tribe. In Muslim cultures that practice female circumcision, it is a cleansing process of excess skin.
Gordon agrees that not all forms of female circumcision are in line with global human rights, but explains that it can be achieved by meeting the following criteria:
- Individual informed consent must be obtained, not only consent from the parents.
- The type of female circumcision should be considered, and all types of FGM should be actively discouraged.
- Medically trained experts should carry out the procedures.
- Procedures should take place in sterile rooms and anaesthesia should be made available. All instruments should be disinfected.
- Women should not be pressured into female circumcision, or disadvantaged when they refuse the procedure.
Some groups are advocating for the total abolition of female circumcision or genital mutilation and substitution with a benign and symbolic pinprick using a sterilized needle into the clitoral hood, which is similar to the male foreskin. This practice has its origins in longstanding Jewish tradition. When a non-Jewish child converts to Judaism after being secularly circumcised, the bris method is administered. The bris procedure does not involve the penis, but merely the area left of the foreskin, and is medically supervised. A drop of blood is drawn to satisfy the religious aspect.
Much like a cosmetic ear piercing, this method offers no medical harm or benefit. However, it is much less intrusive than other procedures, but it still protects the rights of its religious practitioners.
What to Do When You Are Charged With Female Genital Mutilation
FGM charges immediately draw negative reactions from communities. When people do not understand the underlying reasons and beliefs behind the practice, they tend to act with hostility. Additionally, it is crime in most states in America, and it federal crime that is laid out in international law. It is condemned as a gross violation of the rights of female children and women across the globe.
When you are faced with an offense related to female genital mutilation, you need a Sexual Crimes Attorney and team of legal defense attorneys who will take the time to hear your side of the story without judgment. With many years of criminal law experience, our team of lawyers understand the psyche behind why people do the things that they do.
The Law Regarding Female Genital Mutilation
While the law differs across the states, some version of the following is the norm:
Anyone who knowingly circumcision, infibulation, or excises the clitoris, labia majora or labia minora of a female younger than 18 years will be guilty of female genital mutilation.
Any parent, guardian or immediate custodian or supervisor of a female younger than 18 years of age who knowingly permits or consents to the circumcision, infibulation, or excision the clitoris, labia majora or labia minora will be guilty of female genital mutilation.
Anyone who knowingly permits or causes the removal of a female younger than 18 years for circumcision, infibulation, or excision of the clitoris, labia majora or labia minora of a will be guilty of female genital mutilation.
Premise for a Female Genital Mutilation Conviction
In order to convict a person of female genital mutilation, it must be proven that the suspect is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, an experienced Sexual Crimes Attorney can find and expose weaknesses in the prosecutor's case in order to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury.
Penalty for Female Genital Mutilation Conviction
Since the law differs from one state to another, penalties vary between five to twenty years, depending on the law of the state in which the defendant is convicted.
Possible Defenses Against Female Genital Mutilation Charges
Female genital mutilation is categorized as a federal crime, and you need an attorney who is comfortable handling sex crimes at federal level. A knowledgeable Sexual Crimes Attorney can assess the merits of your case and work up a defense that will most likely ensure a successful outcome. Our attorneys do everything reasonably and legally possible to have charges dismissed, or to have sentences reduced. However, it starts with the right defense strategy from the beginning.
The religious defense when faced with female genital mutilation charges is not accepted in court, and neither are standard practice, custom or ritual. Using these defenses will result in a guilty verdict, as it is a criminal law that applies to everyone. Constitutional rights are not always absolute and while the First Amendment provides for Free Exercise of Religion, female genital mutilation is regarded a cultural practice rather than religious expression, since there is no Christian or Islamic scripture that mandates the practice. Therefore, female circumcision does not apply under the First Amendment.
According to many state statutes, consent is not an acceptable defense. Therefore, your lawyer will not argue that the female, her parents, custodians or guardians (if she is younger than eighteen years of age) gave their consent for the procedure.
Lack of knowledge is a potential defense, because the statute requires that a suspect knowingly engages in a crime to be found guilty. Therefore, if your lawyer can prove that you were unaware of some knowledge regarding the situation, it could present an opportunity to be used as a defense. If your attorney can work with you and establish that this defense is applicable, it may be used in your case.
The surgical defense can be used, provided the procedure was performed by a medical practitioner or similar professional immediately after the victim delivered a child, or for other medical purposes. However, the surgical or medical defense is not applicable to defendants who practice the ritual female genital mutilation within their communities as a custom.
The importance of an expert legal defense team to represent you when you are facing criminal charges cannot be overstated. The right legal team will be able to help you prepare the best possible defense based on case law and your constitutional rights within the scope of the charges.
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