The recent arrest of two Detroit doctors for complicity in carrying out female genital mutilation (FGM) in immigrant communities has got a lot of people asking questions. The CDC estimates as many as a half-million women and girls in the United States are at risk of having FGM inflicted upon them, but since the practice was outlawed in 1997 there have been a total of 10 arrests. How can this be? Either the CDC estimate is stratospherically wrong or there is an informal vow of silence in place among health care professionals who are not reporting child abuse to authorities out of a sense of political correctness or from fear that parents will be deported.
In 2011, there were 21 cases of FGM reported in Tennessee. You might think Tennessee is an odd place to find this practice but the Population Reference Bureau ranks Tennessee as 18th in the nation in regards to risk of FGM. And it ranks Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin Metropolitan Statistical Area as 20th in nationwide risk.
In 2012 a state law was passed requiring health care professionals to report cases of FGM to law enforcement. You had 21 reported cases in 2011 with no reporting requirements so one would expect the number to increase once reporting became mandatory.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which is the agency that should receive reports of FGM, doesn’t track the complaints.
The TBI confirmed to The Star that FGM is reportable to TIBRS under the broader category of “Aggravated Assault” although there is no way to identify FGM incidents in the TNCrimeOnline system within the “aggravated assault” menu, even though the report can identify incidents in categories including “Lovers’ Quarrel,” “Hunting Accident,” and “Juvenile Gang.”
The Star questioned TBI spokesman Josh DeVine regarding TBI’s knowledge and reporting of the twenty-one 2011 FGM cases.
“In incidents reported to our program, we are not necessarily aware of specific details of that nature. Our TIBRS program collects specific demographic and incident information, but does not collect full narratives,” DeVine told The Star.
Given the attention the two Detroit arrests have garnered, it seems safe to say that there have been ZERO arrests and prosecutions for FGM in Tennessee since reporting became mandatory. That the TBI’s database has not been expanded to include a reporting requirement mandated under state law calls into question just how much Tennessee law enforcement actually cares about these cases.
More troubling is the response of the Tennessee Department of Health.
After learning about the twenty-one cases of FGM in Tennessee in 2011, The Tennessee Star asked the TDH whether any of those cases had been reported to any of the local or regional health departments and whether TDH was aware of any other incidents of FGM occurring after 2011.
Without any additional comment, TDH responded by quoting back the 2012 FGM reporting law and underscoring the law’s mandate that law enforcement has an affirmative duty to receive and report when girls under age 18 are mutilated in Tennessee.
TDH did not answer a follow-up question regarding whether the law prohibited TDH from collecting FGM incident information. TDH did, however, confirm that they had not asked any legislator to add TDH to the reporting statute.
Sen. Bill Ketron, the sponsor of the 2012 FGM reporting law told The Star that the initial goal of his bill was to put the issue of FGM, which he describes as “a despicable act of abuse,” in the hands of law enforcement for prosecution. As to reporting FGM cases to the TDH, Sen. Ketron said, “I also think that it would be helpful to keep track of this through the Department of Health and will bring a bill next year to accomplish this.”
The first line in educating health care professionals on their responsibilities under Tennessee’s reporting law is obviously the licensing agency for those professionals. The fact that they are punting to law enforcement indicates that they have no interest in eradicating this practice. One can nearly see the little PC wheels whirring away thinking, “if immigrants are afraid they will be reported for sexually mutilating their daughters they may not seek health care.”
It seems increasingly clear that the reason there have not been arrests for FGM is that many people, in the health care professions and in the administration of justice, simply do not think the crime is a big deal.