Instead of prosecuting those responsible for FGM, we went after a doctor doing his job

Rosa Freedman, University of Birmingham

The verdict has been returned on the first prosecution for female genital mutilation in England and Wales – and the defendant has been found not guilty. This is a damning indictment for the Crown Prosecution Service, for our police forces – and for our society. A jury took less than half an hour to find Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena not guilty of FGM, and rightly so.

The FGM legislation is not aimed at doctors who treat previously mutilated women during and after childbirth. It is aimed at the practitioners of FGM who perform the initial mutilation of girls and women and at the parents who seek out, collude in and enable this grievous bodily harm to take place.

From the moment that Dharmasena’s prosecution was announced in March last year, it was clear that the CPS and the police had failed to understand the nature of FGM and who is to blame for the heinous act being perpetrated against tens of thousands of girls and women in England and Wales.

Dharmasena treated a patient who required an incision in order to give birth owing to her genitals having been mutilated earlier on in her life. He stitched that incision after the birth to stop loss of blood. To any lay person, this clearly was a medical procedure based on the best treatment for the patient.

The decision to prosecute this doctor was either politically motivated or, as the judge in the case has claimed, a result of widespread systemic failings. Either way, it is disgraceful not only that the prosecution took place but that not a single person who ought to be prosecuted has been brought to justice in this country. Hasan Mohamed, who was also present at the woman’s delivery, was also found not guilty of aiding and abetting the doctor.

The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 is aimed at prosecuting people who perform, aid and abet or procure FGM whether at home or abroad. The laws were put into place because of the many girls who were and who remain at risk of being taken abroad to be mutilated in other countries. Yet, 11 years after the act came into force, no-one has been prosecuted despite FGM being a serious criminal offence and an abuse of fundamental human rights.

Painful subjugation

There are four types of female genital mutilation may take the form of: (1) clitoridectomy, the partial or total removal of the clitoris; (2) excision, the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora; (3) infibulation, the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal; (4) any other harmful procedures for non-medical purposes, for example pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the genital area.

Each type involves different procedures and has a different impact on a woman’s health, sexual experiences and ability safely to give birth. Each type carries greater or lesser risks of death, whether at that time or later in life. None have any known medical benefits and all are recognised to be performed as a method for reducing a woman’s sexual pleasure and thus subjugating and oppressing females.

They may impact on a woman’s health to the extent that they can and do threaten her right to life, particularly during pregnancy and childbirth. Women with types two and three are likely to experience tears, internal and external, in the vaginal and anal areas, as well as severe complications that frequently lead to death.

The woman who Dharmasena stitched is a victim of type three FGM. Her labia had been stitched together as a child, leaving insufficient room for a child safely to be delivered vaginally. The incision made when she was in labour is likely to have saved her from serious complications or death during or after childbirth – something the judge also told the jury.

The stitching of the incision was a medical decision based on loss of blood. We ought to be celebrating doctors who treat and care for women who have been mutilated because, if it weren’t for them, many more women would die as a result of having been mutilated earlier in their lives. The people we need to prosecute are the parents who take their daughters to be mutilated, the practitioners that carry it out and the people who collude in such crimes.

Until such prosecutions take place, the CPS has failed, the police have failed, and we as a society have failed to take seriously and care about the girls within our midst who are mutilated year upon year.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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