A 2016 Center for Disease Control (CDC) report estimates that “513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk of or may have been subjected” to being mutilated, triple the number estimated in 1990. Immigration from high prevalence FGM countries is considered the reason for the spike, but the CDC admits that “scientifically valid data” is needed to more accurately assess the problem. They claim, however, that this data would be difficult to obtain “due, in part, to the cultural and legal sensitivity of the information needed.”
Two years ago, however, Britain established a national database and began requiring health care providers to report “any instance of FGM/C described to them or discovered during physical exams.” Tennessee’s 2012 FGM law is limited to reporting incidents of FGM in girls under age 18 to law enforcement. While twenty-one cases of FGM were reported in Tennessee in 2011, there is no publicly available record that any official action was taken against the perpetrators.
Neither the Tennessee Department of Health nor Siloam Health Center, the provider for refugees’ initial medical exam and primary care which estimated that eighty-six percent of its patients were foreign born in 2012, collect data on FGM.
In 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health (OMH), gave the Nashville Somali Center received almost $500,000 to address domestic violence and FGM among African refugees being brought to the city. Data collated by UNICEF shows that “FGM/C is nearly universal among girls and women in Somalia” and is the country where “[t]he vast majority of girls [86%] experience the practice between the ages of 5 and 9, and more than half undergo the most severe form of FGM/C.”
The Somali Center was still able to receive the federal money even though it’s director, Abdizirik Hassan had been arrested and charged with felony illegal banking for alleged links to an al-Qaeda affiliate and then subsequently failing to answer truthfully about this conviction when applying for the FGM grant money.
But the grant appeared not to achieve its stated goals. Concerns were raised by the OMH grant overseer who had wanted to hire a female Somali OBGYN with 20 years of experience to fulfill the grant’s objectives. Instead, Hassan hired his friend, the Imam of the Al-Farooq Somali Mosque. After taking the grant money, Hassan was quoted as saying that “the center has done nothing about female genital mutilation because it is not a problem in Nashville. I want to make clear that I never had any case about FGM in this city.”
The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) 2013 data, however, shows that the Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin Metropolitan Statistical Area is ranked 20th in the country for the potential risk of FGM and Tennessee is number 18 in overall state rankings for risk to women and girls from FGM. The dramatic increase of risk is attributed to immigrants, including refugees, who come to the U.S. from high FGM prevalence countries. Federal contractors in Tennessee have been resettling refugees from countries including Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sudan, listed in the PRB report as among the “Top 10 Countries of Origin” where FGM is practiced.
Prosecution for FGM in Michigan has brought renewed attention to the problem. In addition to the doctors involved and the two young girls from Minnesota, other cases have been discovered and two more parents may lose custody of their children after having their young girls genitally mutilated in Michigan. The new Michigan cases involve children in Metro Detroit, a hub for refugee resettlement.