American Legislators Aim to Stop Female Genital Mutilation "Vacations"

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 11 2014 9:03 PM

American Legislators Aim to Stop Female Genital Mutilation "Vacations"

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Malian soldiers carry their country's flag. According to the UN, 89 percent of women in Mali undergo genital mutilation.

Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

Female genital mutilation is illegal in the United States, as is transporting girls out of the country for the purpose of cutting their genitals. Yet as the New York Times reported on Tuesday, an alarmingly large number of American girls are still whisked away to foreign countries each year to undergo cutting:

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

During their stays, some girls are swept into bedrooms or backwoods and subjected to genital cutting in the belief that it will prevent promiscuity, ready them for marriage or otherwise align them with the ideals of their culture.
“Vacation cutting,” as the practice is deemed by those who oppose it, has existed in immigrant enclaves around the world for decades. ... [S]ome are concerned that such cutting could be on the rise. The number of African immigrants in the United States has more than quadrupled in the past two decades to almost 1.7 million, according to the Census Bureau. The growing numbers have brought new attention to the issue, and have spurred a small Internet-age, app-enabled support network of girls and women who have been victims of cutting, or believe they will be.
About 228,000 women and girls in the United States have been cut or are at risk of it, according to an analysis that uses 14-year-old census data.
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On Wednesdsay, Democratic Representatives Joseph Crowley and Sheila Jackson Lee delivered a letter to Congress and several federal agencies demanding a plan to tackle the problem:

They suggest emulating efforts in Britain, which has established a help line for potential victims, created passport inserts that explain the law regarding female cutting, and delivered repeated warnings to school staff members about the dangers of the practice.

It's unclear, however, whether such actions would actually reduce the rate of genital cutting. Most of its supporters persuade or threaten its victims to stay quiet about their trauma. Lifting that veil of silence—as many survivors are beginning to do—could help educate African immigrants in America about its horrors and slow the rate of mutilation. 

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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