Huge Increase in Girls Victimized by Genital Mutilation in U.S.

513,000 women ‘at risk’ or already victims, a three-fold jump since 1990

Spain: Protest against Female Genital Mutilation
Women protesting during the International Day against female genital mutilation / AP

An estimated 513,000 women and girls are at risk or have already been subjected to female genital mutilation in the United States, with the number skyrocketing due to increased immigration from countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where the practice is common.

The State Department considers female genital mutilation—the partial or total removal of female genitalia for no medical reason—to be a form of gender-based violence. The practice is illegal in the United States.

The number of girls suffering from female genital mutilation has tripled in the U.S. since 1990, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office on Monday.

The government places the blame on increased immigration from majority Muslim nations, where female genital mutilation is a common practice.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk of or had been subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in 2012, a threefold increase from its 1990 estimate," the Government Accountability Office said. "CDC attributes this change primarily to increased immigration from countries where FGM/C is practiced, rather than an increase in the occurrence of FGM/C. Agency estimates were not able to distinguish between those who have already been subjected to FGM/C and those who are at risk."

The report also noted that there have been exceedingly few investigations into female genital mutilation in the United States, because it generally goes unreported.

"While [female genital mutilation/cutting] FGM/C is a crime under federal and many state laws, law enforcement officials identified few investigations and prosecutions related to FGM/C," the report said. "Officials said that this may be due, in part, to underreporting."

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials have had no criminal investigation into the practice, despite identifying "at least 25 individuals in immigration court proceedings who were suspected of assistance in the perpetration of" female genital mutilation.

"Of the 25 suspected perpetrators, officials were aware of 1 individual who was removed from the country in July 2005," the report said. "The remaining 24 were granted relief or protection from removal, were still in immigration proceedings, or were not issued a travel document by their home country to implement the immigration court’s final order of removal."

Over 200 million women and girls alive today have suffered from female genital mutilation around the world. The numbers are especially prevalent in North Africa, as women and girls have reported being subjected to female genital mutilation at alarming rates.

Ninety-eight percent of women and girls in Somalia said they have undergone female genital mutilation. Other countries with high rates of the practice included Guinea (97 percent), Mali (89 percent), Egypt (87 percent), and Sudan (87 percent).

The State Department has done little to invest in fighting the practice abroad despite its recognition of female genital mutilation as "gender-based violence." A previous Government Accountability Office report revealed that the agency spent more trying to invent the "origami condom" than it did fighting female genital mutilation abroad.

The State Department has only one stand-alone effort specifically targeting female genital mutilation, spending just $1.5 million over two years.

The latest report echoed the findings, noting that the State Department does not provide information on the dangers of the practice to many immigrants. The Government Accountability Office said the State Department does not provide a fact sheet on female genital mutilation to nonimmigrant visa recipients, which includes tourists, foreign students, diplomats, and temporary workers entering the country.

"[Female genital mutilation/cutting] FGM/C has both immediate and long-term health and social consequences," the report said. "While federal agencies have made efforts to provide assistance to women and girls in the United States at risk of or who have been subjected to FGM/C, and increase awareness of the issue, certain efforts to educate immigrant communities and plan agency activities on FGM/C are lacking."