In the United States, female genital mutilation (FGM) has been a federal crime since 1996. The 1996 law set the federal punishment for this violation of human rights at a maximum of 5 years in prison. After a new bill had been signed today in Michigan, that state joined 24 others that set their state mandated punishments for FGM much higher. Governor Rick Snyder signed a total of 13 bills that covered FGM in the state. One of these bills now made the act of performing the FGM surgery punishable by 15 years in prison.
According to a press release, Snyder shared:
“Those who commit these horrendous crimes should be held accountable for actions, and these bills stiffen the penalties for offenders while providing additional support to victims. This legislation is an important step toward eliminating this despicable practice in Michigan while empowering victims to find healing and justice.”
Beyond establishing FGM as a felony in the state, the other bills outline a zero tolerance policy in the state for those performing the ritual and members of the community that assist in taking victims out of the state to have the procedure done. Beside the main bill that makes FGM a felony:
“Other bills in the package — HB 4636-4641, 4661, 4690 and SB 337-338, 368-369 and 410 — provide penalties for transporting a person to a state for the procedure, set the statute of limitations for the crime to 10 years, revokes the medical license of a person who performs the procedure; allows for victims to file civil lawsuits; and creates an education outreach program to inform the public about the health risks of female genital mutilation.”
All of these bills came to exist after a pair of Michigan doctors, and the wife of one of the doctors was accused of performing FGM on girls as young as 7. According to a news report about their pending federal crimes:
“…the case of two doctors and a physician’s wife who are facing federal charges for their alleged roles in the genital cuttings of two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota at a clinic in Livonia in April. The defendants, who have all denied engaging in genital mutilation practices, are part of a small Indian-Muslim sect that was at the center of a prosecution in Australia last year that ended with three people each getting 15-month prison sentences.
After the Livonia case, two Oakland County mothers were also charged with subjecting their daughters to the banned religious cutting ritual that has now been linked to four Michigan girls.
This brings the total number of identified victims to six — two from Minnesota, four from Michigan. And the number of defendants charged in the historic case is now up to six, including two doctors, a physician’s wife, two mothers and a sixth woman — all of them accused of participating in various degrees of subjecting young girls to genital cutting as part of a religious practice within their Indian Muslim sect.”
Before this set of bills was signed into law today, Michigan did not have any laws against FGM. Any charges tied to the barbaric ritual were taken to the federal level. Now, these matters can be addressed in a local court. This also clears the way for victims to seek both civil and criminal cases against those who perform FGM.
Another interesting part of this particular set of laws is that it also makes it a criminal act to help transport young girls out of the area to have the surgery. The on-going case against the six defendants has also pushed the boundaries of how the state defines child abuse as well. Some of the accused are also at risk of losing custody of their children after allowing them to have FGM.
The ripple effect from these new laws means stiffer penalties for every step of the process. It is no longer acceptable to quietly transport young girls out of the state to have FGM. An extended time frame to file charges against those who perform FGM is also helpful as many of the victims are very young. For the most part, this may allow young adults to seek help well beyond the age that the surgery occurred.
The ability to seek help after surviving FGM is a step in the right direction, although it is not a solution for the practice. There is continued evidence that many within smaller Muslim communities shun those who speak out against the ritual.