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Detroit FGM decision puts tens of thousands of women and girls in the US at risk of FGM

As a member of the steering committee of the United States End FGM Network, Equality Now is deeply disappointed and concerned about the ruling made by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman to dismiss charges brought in Michigan against two doctors and six others accused of subjecting nine girls to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

An Amicus Brief submitted by Equality Now in partnership with We Speak Out, Sahiyo, and Safe Hands for Girls was accepted by the court. We are disappointed that the expert comment provided appears not to have been referred to by Judge Friedman in his conclusions.

We are calling on the U.S. government to appeal this decision.

This is not a ruling that sanctions FGM. It is a narrow decision about whether Congress had the authority to pass a federal law on FGM.

While Judge Friedman finds FGM to be “a despicable practice”, his order completely fails to appreciate the discriminatory and widespread nature of FGM, which is carried out primarily to control the sexuality of women and girls from communities across the U.S.

Research shows that over 500,000 women and girls are at risk or have already been cut in the U.S. Many of whom will have been taken abroad or to another state by family members for the specific purpose of being cut. “Cutting Season” (when girls are transited for cutting) is said to start around Thanksgiving as many schools shut for the holidays.

The fall out of Judge Friedman’s decision will go far beyond the defendant, in this case, impacting tens of thousands of girls across the U.S. who are at risk of FGM – a practice that has no benefits, only harms.

It also undermines the current US policy that FGM is a form of violence against girls and risks unraveling 25 years of inter-agency work between several government departments from Justice to Health, all of whom have made this form of abuse against children a priority issue.

The decision is perceived by FGM survivors around the world as a punch in the gut, including the many women and girls who have shared their intimate and personal stories of living with the negative mental and physical effects of FGM. They have received a message that their stories are not believed, that this abuse can be swept away by a technicality and that the perpetrators of that violence can do so with impunity.

Shelby Quast of Equality Now said in response to the decision:

“We have to ask ourselves how is it that other countries are making positive progress on banning FGM, whilst the U.S is seemingly moving backwards?

Equality Now works from the position that Congress has federal authority to pass this law. Alongside our partners, we’ll be asking the prosecutors office to appeal the decision. Regardless of this, we will persist in calling for laws that make FGM illegal at a federal and state level, whilst continuing to work with survivors to underline its prevalence in the U.S.

We won’t rest until we ensure women and girls are fully protected under the law in every country we work in – we will stand for no less. FGM is child abuse.”