Despite being a Class D felony in Tennessee since 1996, and despite twenty-one cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the state being reported in 2011, there is no publicly available record of any prosecutions for this crime in Tennessee. This contrasts sharply with Michigan that has no state law criminalizing FGM but is where federal law is being used to aggressively prosecute three individuals alleged to have possibly mutilated up to 100 young girls.
In 2012, Tennessee updated its FGM criminal law requiring healthcare providers to report cases of FGM to either a sheriff or chief of police “and shall also, in either event, report the same immediately to the district attorney general or a member of the district attorney general’s staff.” Sen. Bill Ketron who sponsored the 2012 bill explained that reporting to the district attorney (DA) was mandated in the statute because even though FGM was already illegal in Tennessee, “we had no mechanism for reporting under previous law which was a barrier to prosecution. So, that is what this bill was about – to stop this act from occurring in our state.”
Shortly after The Tennessee Star’s first story about the Population Reference Bureau report placing Tennessee as number eighteen in overall state rankings for risk to women and girls from female genital mutilation (FGM), The Star contacted the Tennessee District Attorneys’ General Conference (TDAGC), the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, Tennessee’s Chiefs of Police Association and the TN Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians (TNAAP). Due to the large immigrant population in Davidson County from high FGM prevalent countries, Nashville’s District Attorney Glen Funk was also contacted.
The DA’s organization and Glen Funk’s office were asked:
- The sponsor of the 2012 reporting bill, Sen. Bill Ketron cited that in 2011, twenty-one cases of FGM had been reported in Tennessee. Since there was no reporting requirement specifically with regard to FGM until the bill was passed in 2012, do you know whether any cases of FGM were reported to any district attorney in Tennessee prior to that time?
- If so, can you identify the county/counties?
- Are you aware of any other cases that have been reported since the reporting bill was passed in 2012? If so, can you identify the county/counties?
- Given the case of the doctor just arrested in Michigan who was doing FGM and increase in immigration to TN from countries where FGM is practiced, is there any concern that cases are being underreported?
- If a case is reported to a DA, what does the DA do with that information?
- Would the DA report that information to the TBI for its annual crime report?
No response from the DA Conference or Glen Funk’s office has been received to date.
The Sheriffs’ Association was asked a similar set of questions and responded promptly:
We do not have that information here at our office. The only place that information might be available would be at the TBI. Our Executive Director has not heard of any reported case since the bill was passed.
TNAAP also chose not to respond to the following questions:
- Do you know whether the TNAAP provided information to its members about the new reporting requirements?
- Has the TNAAP provided any training to its members that help the identify cases of FGM?
- Is the TNAAP aware of any cases that have been reported since the 2012 bill was passed?
- Given the increase in immigration to TN from countries where FGM is practiced and the case of the doctor just arrested in Michigan who was doing FGM, is the TNAAP concerned that cases are being underreported?
In addition to the federal law criminalizing FGM, twenty-four states have outlawed FGM. A bill making parental involvement in FGM a felony and grounds to lose custody rights is making its way through the Minnesota legislature as are bills in Texas and Maine. Opposition to the bill in Maine is coming from the state’s ACLU chapter whose “spokesman Oamshri Amarasingham said that the risk of mutilation isn’t worth expanding Maine’s criminal code.”
According to the World Health Organization:
- Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
- The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
- Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
The Michigan House chamber yesterday passed a bill outlawing FGM. Skeptics of the proposed Michigan law have voiced concern that criminalizing a practice that is “an entrenched cultural and religious practice” may not stop young girls from being mutilated.
The individuals being prosecuted in Michigan are defending their actions as protected by the First Amendment and religious freedom. Constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz has been hired to help defend them.