The story of a doctor accused of performing female genital mutilation (FGM) on two young girls in Michigan is circulating the internet. FGM is often thought to be a foreign issue, however, the story proves otherwise and so do the numbers.
According to Equality Now, up to 513,000 women and girls in the United States are at risk of FGM or have undergone the practice. Although there have only been a few reported cases in the country over the past few years, (Georgia in 2003 and 2010), advocates believe this cultural practice is impacting girls in the United States.
While some FGM advocates say the girls are often taken back to their parents' home country for the so-called "vacation cutting," others believe there may be cases of cuttings happening under the table right here in the United States.
Officials said in the Michigan case two girls were taken from Minnesota to Michigan by their mothers. Their "special trip" turned into a visit to Dr. Jumana Nagarwala where they ended up allegedly undergoing female genital mutilation.
Regarding that investigation, the FBI said they have identified other children who may have been victimized by Dr. Nagarwala. While this is being called "the first federal prosecution of its kind in the US," studies and research show that the cultural practice may be a bigger issue in America than many have anticipated or were aware of.
In fact, the Public Reference Bureau estimates the Washington, D.C. metro area to be one of the most highly FGM impacted areas in the country with some 51,411 women and girls. According to 2013 data, the New York City - Newark area is listed at the top with an estimate of 65,893 women impacted. Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Seattle and Atlanta areas all rank top on the list as well.
The practice of FGM is banned in the United States and makes it illegal to knowingly perform the practice and to knowingly transport a girl out of the country for FGM.
UNICEF records show that at least 200 million women and girls living today have undergone the practice in a total of 30 countries. It more commonly happens in Africa, the Middle East and some parts of Asia. Some forms of FGM also happen among certain ethnic groups in South America, the World Health Organization reports.
FGM is defined as all practices involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or any other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is a cultural practice and despite common beliefs, has no ties to any religion.
The practice is often performed so the girl can be accepted into the community and can be married off. It is often associated with "notions of being feminine, modest, clean and beautiful," according to Equality Now.
FGM and male circumcision are often compared, although it must be noted that two practices differ when it comes to both health and ideologies. FGM damages the female organs and causes severe pain and complications for women’s sexual and reproductive health, Equality Now reports.