As many refugees come to America seeking safety and new freedoms, there are often attempts by local communities to help them become members of their small towns and cities. This can include organizations that encourage the individual cultures and groups that help with basic needs like housing, employment, and food.
While these efforts seem to make sense, at what point do supports go too far? The state of Maine is pushing this boundary as liberal law makers argue that creating laws against the ritual abuse of young females via female genital mutilation hurts and alienates refugees. Allowing families coming into the United States to practice a violent ritual against their female children is in some way comforting and a sign of diversity according to law makers in Maine.
Female genital mutilation is against federal law. The Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act was made into law in 1997. This prohibits the ritual abuse of anyone under the age of 18 via the procedure. There are also 24 states that have specific legislation on the book addressing the procedure and outlining the punishments. In the states that do not have laws like Maine, they do have the option to prosecute this type of crime as being child abuse, assault or cruelty to children. In Maine, it seems that they do not consider this ritual to be a form of abuse as they recently took steps to avoid laws that prohibit it.
With states like Michigan gaining headlines for finally prosecuting cases of this type of abuse, it is sickening to watch lawmakers in Michigan argue that a bill that protects female family members is not good for the overall community. There were fears in the state Senate that as the law was written, it would isolate refugee families because it made it a crime for parents to agree to allow the procedure to be performed or to transport children out of the local area to have it done. Because there was fighting over the language that punished not only those performing the ritual but also the parents who agreed to have it done, the overall bill died.
Sadly it was more important to turn a blind eye of young female children being harmed and abused than it was to possibly alienate that parents who encourage and support the act. This is not merely a religious right of passage or a needed part of the culture. It is also not tied to any real medical value of having the genitals of young girls cut and mutilate.
To better understand what this procedure looks like in the United States, we can take a moment to start with the very first case of female genital mutilation that was prosecuted on a federal level. Although the law went into effect in 1997, the first conviction did not come until 2006. According to a report about this landmark case:
“The first conviction of FGM in the US occurred in 2006. Khalid Adem, an Ethiopian American, was both the first person prosecuted and first person convicted for FGM in the United States. The charge stemmed from the fact that he had personally excised his 2-year-old daughter’s clitoris with a pair of scissors. As at that time there was no specific FGM law in Georgia, the US state in which the incident took place, Adem was found guilty of aggravated battery and cruelty to children.”
Even though there has been limited federal prosecution and some states are slow to enact laws unique to FGM, the practice worldwide has long been defined as being abusive. As far back as 1996, it was also added to the list of abuses one could claim to seek asylum in the United States. This occurred when:
“Fauziya Kasinga, a 19-year-old member of the Tchamba-Kunsuntu tribe of Togo, was granted asylum in 1996 after leaving an arranged marriage to escape FGM; this set a precedent in US immigration law because it was the first time FGM was accepted as a form of persecution.”
With refugees being able to flee their country of origin to escape FGM, it seems outlandish for any law makers to argue against legislation that may keep it from happening to young females in the United States. Democrats in Maine did exactly that as they placed the needs of parents to feel safe in their state ahead of the needs of young females to be physically safe in Maine.