More than 25,000 Girls and Women in Virginia May be At Risk
State legislation to make female genital mutilation (FGM) of a minor a felony took a big step forward this week in the Virginia General Assembly.
FGM is the ritual removal of part or all of the female genitalia, according to Equality Now. It is typically performed in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and has spread to the United States through immigration. The practice is seen as a rite of passage in some communities, where it is performed ostensibly to control a woman’s sexuality, ensure virginity until marriage, and fidelity in marriage.
The number of girls under 18 at risk for FGM in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1997, according to the AHA Foundation. The women’s advocacy group also cites data showing Virginia to be one of eight states in the U.S. with 25,000 or more girls and women at risk.
Virginia is one of 26 states that have not outlawed the FGM, in spite of federal laws against it. Of those states with the highest at risk populations, only Virginia and Washington have not enacted state laws to bolster federal efforts.
SB 1060, introduced by Sen. Dick Black (R-13) of Loudoun County, would change this.
The World Health Organization states that FGM has no health benefits and instead poses medical risks, and the practice has been controversial for many years, with debates not unlike those surrounding male circumcision. Many also consider it barbaric and cruel.
FGM has been a federal crime since 1996 and is punishable with a fine or up to five years in jail. As proposed, the state legislation would make the felony punishable by a minimum of five years in jail and a maximum of 20 years in Virginia, said Chris Lore, Black’s legislative aide.
SB 1060 also has a clause allowing girls to pursue civil damages for up to 10 years after turning 18, Lore said. Federal law does not have a provision for civil suits.
“This physical torture of little girls is a violation of the rights of children,” Black said in a release. “My bill will give these girls legal rights. Parents need to reconsider if mutilating their daughters is worth 20 years in jail and possibly being sued by the daughter for the damage they have caused due to these barbaric practices.”
Some families take their daughters abroad to have her undergo FGM. The Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act amended federal law in 2013 to outlaw this practice of going overseas for “vacation cutting.” Federal law now makes the practice punishable as if it happened in the U.S., as would Black’s bill.
SB 1060 unanimously passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Jan. 16, where an identical bill introduced by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-12) was incorporated into it. Dunnavant is a first term member of the Senate and a practicing OB/GYN physician in the Richmond area.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.