September 3 2014 Latest news:
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Police in Suffolk are currently investigating three cases of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the county, it can be revealed.
The investigations were revealed when anti-FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein visited University Campus Suffolk to present her documentary called The Cruel Cut, which was screened last year on Channel 4.
Bal Howard, who works with Suffolk Constabulary on honour based abuse such as FGM and forced marriage, said the force was currently looking into three related cases.
Mrs Howard trains frontline staff such as teachers and midwives to identify when a girl or woman has been subjected to FGM and to report it.
However she said the work was only in its infancy. “When we look at domestic abuse, we are 20 years ahead of the game because when police officers used to turn up before they would mediate,” she said. “We are just at the starting point with things like forced marriage and honour violence, and with FGM we are still behind.”
She added: “It’s something that can’t be identified on its own, so let’s work with partner agencies because health professionals are going to pick them up before anybody else.
“With some of the communities they think it’s the norm and don’t understand that it’s a criminal act. A lot of people say it’s part of Islam, but it’s nothing to do with Islam at all, it’s cultural. So it’s about changing the mindset of those communities but we have done very little work with the communities in Suffolk.”
Leyla Hussein was invited by sociologist and UCS academic Dr Shamser Sinha and presented her documentary to a crowd of over 150 students.
Ms Hussein, who was herself subjected to FGM, is leading a campaign to eradicate the practice in the UK. Although it was made illegal in 1985, FGM it is still widespread here and nobody has ever been prosecuted for it.
A report entitled The Unpunished Crime estimated that 65,000 girls under the age of 13 in the UK are at risk of the practice and 170,000 have already gone through it.
Ms Hussein said it was unhelpful to treat it as an issue which only affected certain urban areas of the country.
“I go as far as Cornwall so we’ve had women from Cornwall affected,” she said.
“If we step away from the attitude that it may not be happening here and actually treat everybody as if there is a high risk then there will maybe be that one girl who can be saved.”
Many British women who have been subjected to FGM have undergone the procedure in the UK, said Ms Hussein.
“We know of cases were girls are being cut in London, we’re hearing a lot of stories in south London, Birmingham… it could be anywhere.”
Dr Sinha said it was likely FGM was taking place in Suffolk, given the increasing diversity of the county.
“The demographic of Ipswich and Suffolk is changing,” he said. “If you look at it and look around Ipswich now, go around Christchurch Park, you see people from all over the world in Ipswich. I think we can safely say it is an issue relevant to places outside London, Birmingham and Manchester.”
However the current approach still has massive deficiencies, said Ms Hussein, insisting that frontline public service staff should be trained in how to react when they encounter somebody who has been subjected to FGM.
“The UK actually published one of the best multi-agency documents in the whole of the world about two years ago but it’s collecting dust because it’s not mandatory,” she said.
“If only they’d added this to the child protection training it would have made such a big difference.”
She also criticised legislation which obliged children to give evidence against their parents in order for a prosecution to succeed, and said the issue could be tackled using existing child protection or assault legislation.
Dr Sinha added: “It’s child abuse… I don’t think there’s any grey area there. If you think about the procedure, how could you think about it in any other way?”
The NSPCC run a free 24/7 FGM helpline. If you’re worried that a child is at risk of FGM or would like advice, information or support you can contact them on 0800 028 3550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.