Policing Issues

Policing Issues In Regard To Female Genital Mutilation In The UK

JUNE 8, 2016

tags: Policy, Politics, Female genital mutilation (FGM), Law, #FGM, Multi-Agency, Schools, Legal, Public health, Prevention, #EndFGM, HTPs, Labour Party, Home Affairs Policy Commission, Policing, Enforcement, LSCBs, PSHRE, Volunteers, Activists, Health services

The British Labour Party Home Affairs policy commission is currently investigating the topic of police reform. I was invited to make a written submission on how I think the police could improve their response to victims of FGM or those who are at risk of becoming victims.

 

What follows comprises my draft submission – but I am acutely aware there is still much work to do on this difficult topic.  I hope my submission will help the discussion along. Your thoughts are also very welcome.

 

Please note: This is a DRAFT document. Comments and queries are very welcome via the response box at the end of this piece. Thank you.

 

 

Policing Issues in Regard to Female Genital Mutilation in the UK

 

Hilary Burrage   (June 2016)

 

Contents

 

Introduction

FGM in Britain / the UK

Cultural and gender (non-)diversity in the Police Force

Wider legal measures in enforcing the eradication of FGM in Britain

Who is at risk of or has FGM? Who does it?

Other FGM-related factors

 

Child ‘marriage’

 

Age of consent

 

Asylum

 

Mothers and daughters

 

FGM practising community contexts

 

6.Effective policing of FGM – protection

 

Incomplete awareness of FGM

 

The ‘cutting’ season/s

 

Mandatory reporting

 

Protecting the interests of the child (or vulnerable adult)

 

Work in schools and with young people

 

Safety of victims / survivors

 

Engaging the community

 

7. Effective policing of FGM – enforcement and prosecution

 

Contexts – FGM is not a ‘women’s’ (or a ‘health’) problem

 

Police investigations

 

Multi-agency collaboration

 

Legally admissible evidence on FGM

 

Issues around choice: cosmetic surgery (‘designer vagina’) and male circumcision

 

8. General issues and considerations

 

9. Strategic (high-level policy) recommendations

 

10. Conclusion

 

Appendix 1: Parameters of this paper

 

Appendix 2: Harmful traditional practices (HTPs) and other human rights abuse

 

Appendix 3: Recommendations of the HMIC inspection of the police response to honour-based

 

violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation

 

Appendix 4: Further reading

 

~ ~ ~ 

 

Introduction

A British sociologist and writer, my concerns about female genital mutilation (FGM) extend back to the 1980s, and for the past decade – as the continuing enormity of the extensiveness of this abuse has become clear – FGM has been an increasingly major focus of my work.

 

I am the author of Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Ashgate / Routledge, 2015)[1] and of Female Mutilation: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation (New Holland Publishing, 2016)[2]. I am also the Guardian newspaper Consultant on FGM[3] and my website[4] carries in-depth coverage of issues around FGM.  I have been an active member of the Labour Party for almost forty years.

 

Please note that this response to the Home Affairs policy commission on police reform refers only to FGM and closely related matters, and is simply an introductory note which I hope will provide some pointers to more fully consideration of the issues in this area.[5]  Appendix 1 briefly explores these parameters.

 

There will inevitably be many junctures where concerns regarding FGM merge with, or are in some instances in opposition to, other important aspects of policing.  Appendix 2 offers some information on other forms of harmful traditional practices (HTPs) which, alongside FGM and another global crime against the person, human trafficking, are serious, criminal infringements of human rights and bodily integrity under both UK and international law. Harmful practices (eg sexual abuse and corporal punishment of children) occur in every part of the world and must also be considered.

 

Appendix 3 comprises a summary of some of the policing issues currently identified by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary as relating to FGM and, particularly, ‘honour’ based violence (HBV) and forced marriage (FM) – though not child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) together, all of which are highly relevant to FGM.[6]

 

NB: British legal and enforcement practices concerning FGM and other violence against women and girls (VAWG) are currently developing rapidly and in a state of flux.  Further general reading is offered as Appendix 4 of this submission.

 

 

 

2. FGM in Britain / the UK

 

A general introduction to female genital mutilation (FGM) and approaches to its eradication can be found here.[7]  Precise data on victim mortality is not available, but FGM is known to cause death – either immediately or later on – in a substantial number of cases.  Infants also die as a result of difficult deliveries when mothers have had FGM. Further, whilst cause and effect are often not perceived by the communities concerned, FGM almost always has permanent implications for victims’ physical and psychological health, including trauma, obstetric fistula and life-long infections.

 

Around 200 million women and girls now alive globally have experienced FGM,[8] [9] of whom estimates suggest that between around 137[10] [11] and 170[12] thousand women and girls in the UK have undergone or are at risk of undergoing it.  This estimation of British numbers continues to rise in part because increasing awareness and reporting measures[13] around FGM are revealing a greater incidence and exposure to risk, and also because there are now more people from traditionally practising parts of the world who have become resident in the UK.  (A similar pattern of increasingly large estimates seems to be emerging in the USA.[14] )

 

Additionally, it may be that the incidence in some communities within the UK is increasing because FGM is perceived by members as a marker of ‘difference’ and of adherence to the ‘traditional values’ in those communities. Likewise, in traditionally practising diaspora communities which may adhere to FGM the demographic profile indicates that the number of girls and young women who may be exposed to FGM is rising, as the original immigrants to Britain settle and raise their own families.

 

Conversely, in other traditionally practising diaspora communities exposure to Western understandings has reduced the incidence of FGM; but it is also important to acknowledge that there are serious campaigns to eradicate FGM in many of these countries of origin.

 

But whilst precise data about the number of women and girls with FGM, or at risk of it, in the UK has yet to be determined, it is important to recognise that any form of FGM, whether inflicted in the UK or abroad, is illegal under British and international law – just as FGM is also now illegal in most of the countries where traditionally it has been the custom.

 

To date in the UK there have been no successful prosecutions for committing the crime of, nor have there been many significant court actions as a result of, FGM.[15]  The issues which underpin this situation have recently been examined by, amongst others, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.[16] The HMIC’s recommendations for action by the police are referenced in Appendix 3 below.

 

 

 

3. Cultural and gender (non-)diversity in the Police

 

Despite some recent interventions, the UK police force as a whole is far from diverse.  Accepting always the risk of a degree of harsh, unfair-to-some stereotyping, it can be said that the large majority of British police officers are white males with limited insight into / knowledge of the wider world beyond their own experience. Officers with non-diverse backgrounds will find it very difficult to engender trust or to ‘read’ the implications of activities in minority cultural communities; important indicators of the need for intervention will be missed.  Overall, this does not equip the police service well when trying to expose and deal with poorly understood and usually covert crimes against individuals who cannot speak out about what is happening.

 

 

 

The Police are insufficiently diverse in respect to ethnicity, gender and cultural background. This has very wide implications (including the charge of institutional racism[17]) and is particularly important in issues around the protection of vulnerable members of the community.

Further, the nature of FGM is in any case particularly sensitive.  It is an intimate, gendered crime which often hinges on nuances of conduct, language and perception which make communication with the (potential) victim difficult – if the victim is willing to engage at all, which she may well not be, especially in the presence of men not from her community.  Making matters even more complex, if there is the prospect of a discussion between a victim and a police or other legal officer via an interpreter or with a ‘friend’ or chaperone in attendance, that third party must be someone independent who will not influence or be influenced by the victim’s family or other community members.

 

It is too late, if independent (and trained) third parties for interpretation / chaperoning whilst victims are in the care of the Police have not been identified before the need for them arises.

 

 

4. Legal measures in enforcing the eradication of FGM in Britain

 

The eradication of FGM is a complex matter, whether in the UK or other parts of the globe, but in essence the issues coalesce around what I have termed the ‘4Es’:[18]

 

Engagement (genuine involvement in the relevant community)

Education (both about FGM itself, but also crucially schooling as such – for girls, boys and where possible their parents and wider families)

Enforcement (appropriate legislation and its effective application)   and

Economics (recognition of FGM as an element in economic transactions embedded in millennia of tradition which by default no-one in a community would contemplate questioning).

Overall, that the most effective way to eliminate FGM in the UK is via a strongly supported and rigorous Public Health approach[19] [20] involving all the ‘Es’ above. It is the third of these elements, enforcement, which will be considered here.

 

It is important to note that the legal and policing issues vary in some respects, depending on whether the person (potential victim / survivor) is a child or adult; but in every case FGM is illegal.

 

A Guardian article[21] which Dexter Dias QC, Felicity Gerry QC and I co-authored examines some of the difficulties which may arise in enforcing the prohibition of FGM in Britain.  Amongst the aspects to be considered are inadequacies within the legislation itself (various of these weak points have now been remediated[22], thanks largely to the efforts of the attorneys as above and their Bar human rights colleagues[23] [24]).

 

To quote from the most recent (April 2016) Government guidance, for England and Wales[25]:

 

FGM is illegal in England and Wales under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.

 

 

 

As amended by the Serious Crime Act 2015, the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 now includes:

 

An offence of failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM;

Extra-territorial jurisdiction over offences of FGM committed abroad by UK nationals and those habitually (as well as permanently) resident in the UK;

Lifelong anonymity for victims of FGM;

FGM Protection Orders which can be used to protect girls at risk; and

A mandatory reporting duty which requires specified professionals [in regulated activity[26] ] to report known cases of FGM in under 18s to the police.

Wider challenges for the relevant enforcement and protection authorities are more directly associated with the contexts in which FGM is likely to arise.  These latter are very significant in respect of policing.

 

It is also however important to note that the Police are not the only agency with direct responsibility to enforce legislation about FGM.  Other agencies include the Border Agency[27] / authorities[28] and Traffic Police etc.

 

 

 

5. Who is at risk of FGM? And who does it?

 

It is vital that the Police (and other enforcement agencies) do not have set ideas about who may, or may not, be vulnerable to FGM or other harmful traditional practices.  The stereotype is that FGM is done by ‘Muslims’ – a stereotype which is not only wide of the mark, but also deeply offensive to the majority of followers of Islam (a faith with many different schools of thought, eg Sunni and Shia, and a breadth of contrasts similar to that of the divide between, say Roman Catholics and Quakers within Christianity) who would not consider and do not practice FGM.

 

The reality is that FGM is historically a tribal practice; the incidence of FGM in traditionally practising countries shows that it spreads across national and formal faith divides according to the customs of the area.

 

FGM is a feature of many more locations than those usually first considered ‘in Africa’.  There is evidence that it occurs in every continent[29] and across all main religions and in communities with local / animist beliefs as well.

 

Having said that, however, we do know that the risk of FGM is greater in some parts of the world than in others; and that the type of mutilation carried out also varies between locations.  Sometimes these differences translate into clear parallels in diaspora communities, and sometimes not (as above, p.2).  In the words of Christine Nanjala-Ndenga, the lawyer who is chief prosecutor for FGM in Kenya, ‘the practice of FGM is struggling to remain relevant and as a result it keeps on changing ever day’.[30]

 

Further, assumptions about who is delivering the mutilation need constantly to be checked.  Whilst there are still parts of the world where traditional ‘midwives’ or ‘cutters’ are usually those who carry out the criminal act, it is a prime concern of the World Health Organisation that, increasingly, FGM is performed by clinically trained personnel who offer anaesthesia and aseptic procedures – for a fee.

 

The trend towards medicalisation, however, does not reduce the illegality of the crime, and it is still a very dangerous assault, as the recent deaths of girls in Egypt demonstrate.[31]

 

The Police must be vigilant in developing an awareness of FGM, but they must not permit stereotypes to shape their understandings of where FGM may occur, or by whom it may be delivered. Awareness is not however at present high, and seems on occasion to be masked by a focus on other (also very serious) concerns such as forced marriage, which more likely to be reported to the Police (FGM is almost never reported by victims[32]).  But all these practices are criminal, and sometimes they occur together.

It is also vital that enforcement agencies recognise the constantly changing scenarios in which FGM occurs, and by whom it is done. Medicalisation and traditional methods of FGM require different investigations.

 

 

6. Other FGM-related factors

 

Child ‘marriage’

 

Child ‘marriage’[33] (legally sanctioned rape, or paedophilia) is also a factor in the practice of FGM, which may be a preparation for such ‘marriage’, perhaps to an older man who already has other wives.  Such contracts, usually involving bride price and / or other financial transactions, will normally mark the end of the child-bride’s schooling; and they may also result in premature pregnancy, with all the health perils that entails.[34]  Obviously, these arrangements are not formally recorded in the UK, although they probably happen in some communities. Child marriage is largely unacknowledged in discussions of policing FGM in Britain, but it must be recognised as a potential danger.[35]

 

What is not looked for will not be seen. This is probably the case with child ‘marriage’, where almost always a girl apparently goes missing from school and only the formalities of absence from education are observed. Close enforcement / protection liaison with school absence officers (and maternity services – if the girl accesses them) might reveal a hitherto unrecognised additional pattern of child abuse. The Police must become aware of the possibility that diaspora communities which practice FGM may also, illicitly, be sanctioning child ‘marriage’.

Age of consent

 

One issue to note in respect of child marriage is that many countries (eg some nations in Africa) now fix the minimum age for marriage at 18, at least for girls – whilst in Britain it is 16 for both sexes (with parental consent in England and Wales, and without that in Scotland). Very early ‘marriage’ to older men is often a followed by what is essentially slavery for the girl. [36]

 

Since some older teenagers are likely to engage in sex whether or not they will be breaking the law, perhaps the age at which marriage is permitted should, in the modern context, be different from that of the age of consent, given always that the age is set at an appropriate (later teens) point, equally for boys and girls, and with safe and easy access to sexual health services.

 

A debate in the UK context about the age of consent and that for marriage is probably overdue. Open discussion of issues such as the availability of relationship / sex education, and of contraception and protection from infection is also required. The Police, with their particular experience of the outcomes of various types of risk to which young people are exposed, have an important perspective to offer in such dialogue.

Asylum

 

Potentially very significant consequences may also arise when women who have, or claim fear of, FGM arrive as migrants or refuges to the UK and seek asylum.[37] [38]  There has been serious criticism of the way that such claims are handled, and of the failure of authorities to acknowledge that FGM is an internationally recognised reason, as human rights abuse, for claiming asylum.[39]

 

It is frequently reported that these factors are dismissed, or the woman is simply disbelieved – her own family may want to save face / preserve ‘honour’, or avoid prosecution for harm inflicted.  Further, the officials concerned may be poorly (if at all) informed about FGM and the woman, understandably, may find it very difficult to identify formally that FGM is the basis of her claim for FGM, which is often not even mentioned in the initial interviews, conducted by men whom the woman has never met before and who do not understand her culture.  (Being interviewed by an official who is also a member of the particular community also has perils – will he tell others in that community, even though he should not?)

 

It must be understood that women who seek asylum citing FGM as a factor in their need for protection are especially vulnerable and in need of care and privacy as their claim goes forward.

Mothers and daughters

 

Particularly sensitive is the issue of pregnant women who are known or believed to have experienced FGM, and the prospect that FGM may also be inflicted on any female babies she may have.  This possibility is now checked in the course of the ‘FGM pathway’[40] which UK midwives provide for expectant mothers, and there may be instances where FGM is reported to the police.  Health visitors and others may also be alerted where there is a concern that the mother / parents may, in turn, seek for their daughter to undergo FGM.

 

Clear and well understood protocols are required for the Police in handling issues around both the possibility that the daughters of woman with FGM may – but also may not – be at risk of FGM.

FGM practising community contexts

 

FGM is normally (not always[41]) arranged and / or inflicted on victims by family members who, despite testimony to the contrary from some who have been ‘punished’ by FGM, claim to be doing it for the ‘good’ of the person harmed.

 

This situation, instigated by family members, places (potential or post hoc) victims in a double bind: on one hand they require protection and / or medical care, but on the other hand if they know about and seek required attention they expose their own family members to the prospect of legal sanction – something which, almost always, daughters are unequivocally unwilling to visit upon their mothers, aunts and / or grandmothers, especially as there is at present no legal precedent in the UK for what might happen next.

 

The focus in the first instance is the safety of the child or vulnerable woman and it is her safety which is the rationale for reporting.  Ultimately, if criminal cases go to court, the judge, not any of the professionals with the original concerns, will decide after receiving required reports what sanctions may or may not be applied should the accused be found guilty. But it is also judges who have the authority to deliver court orders which can prevent the harm being inflicted in the first place.

 

The likely outcomes of police involvement in FGM cases (prevention of, and / or protection from further harm) are not widely understood by either victims or family and community members. There needs to be clarity about the role of the police in ensuring that the safety of the child is the first priority.

It is also essential that all professionals who become involved – midwives, teachers, police etc – understand that reporting concerns to the authorities is a direct responsibility; what happens legally thereafter is not. This is critical because it removes the fear, often cited by all sides (family members to eg midwives) that reporting FGM, or the risk of it, will necessarily result in ‘breaking up the family’.

 

 

7. Effective policing of FGM – protection

 

Incomplete awareness of FGM

 

Some UK communities in which FGM has been found, or is suspected, are relatively isolated from the mainstream. There is considerable evidence that not all those involved don’t know about the dangers of FGM, or even that it is strictly illegal in Britain.[42] Similarly, there is sometimes confusion about terminology: ‘sunna’, for instance, may not be understood to be FGM.  These matters have no impact on the legal status of FGM as a crime, but they may influence understandings at the local level.

 

It is important that messages about FGM are understood by those who have or at risk of, FGM. A comprehensive account by the police and other agencies of local terms used is therefore an essential tool in eradication – and also an essential aspect of ensuring that victims know they are entitled to health care for the harm done.  (FGM must however always be the term employed in formal and professional discourse.)

The ‘cutting season/s’

 

There is now awareness amongst public service and voluntary agencies that the so-called ‘cutting season’ places girls at particular risk.  What is less well known however is that this season is often traditionally connected with the harvest (a time of greater wealth) in any particular community – so it may occur at any time of the year, depending on the different locations.

 

Border intelligence is vital to the reducing risk of girls being sent ‘home’ for FGM.  It is illegal in the UK to assist in sending girls abroad for mutilation.

 

Information om different traditional times for FGM in different parts of the world is vital.

Mandatory reporting

 

Mandatory reporting by those in regulated activity in the UK is now required. The protocols are however inadequate and confusing.  This matter is discussed in more detail here.[43]  The coordination of reporting and care is not adequate either in terms of agencies or of localities.

 

Mandatory reporting is essential to protect children from various sorts of harm, but it must be revisited to ensure a seamless process which can be used with confidence, both by those who are mandated to report and those whose safety needs protection.

Protecting the interests of the child (or vulnerable adult)

 

The initial steps in reporting concerns about a child at risk of FGM are unsatisfactory, but in the immediate period after a child has been identified as at risk of, or has undergone, FGM there is a formal pathway for referral.[44] [45] What happens in the medium and longer term is however often less fully considered.  How should the interests of the child, independently from all other involved, be protected and promoted?

 

There are currently moves to press for independent (third party) advocates for children at risk of / experiencing trafficking,[46] a strategy which has been judged effective.[47]  The Government has however resisted calls to provide all trafficked children with an independent advocate[48] despite the Council of Europe Convention (2005)[49] and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,[50] which require adherence to four fundamental principles: the best interests of the child; the right of the child to be heard; the right to life and development; non-discrimination.

 

These same fundamental principles apply equally to children who have, or may, experience FGM and other harmful traditional practices; and in France an officially appointed third party – rather like the UK Guardian ad Litem[51] –  acts solely in the interests of children who have had FGM throughout any legal proceedings, including making decisions on future financial interests (the French require FGM perpetrators to pay compensation to girls they harm).

 

It is essential – and in the interests also of legal / enforcement officers – that a set procedure to protect the interests of any child (or other vulnerable person) as the law on FGM takes its course.

 

 

Child protection agencies and Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs)

 

A plethora of voluntary agencies involved in child protection exist and much of the work in this field is set out to tender.  It is therefore difficult to determine who has ultimate responsibility.

 

Further, the status of the Local Safeguarding Children Boards, which are supposed to bring together the voluntary and statutory agencies involved, is unclear; the organisations are not obliged to collaborate and the funding is inadequate, as the Welsh report on LSCBs demonstrates.[52]

 

Serious attention is required to ensure the effectiveness of LSCBs, especially across local authority borders, and accountability for effectiveness in safeguarding children overall must be clarified.

Work in schools

 

Schools are the only point at which almost every child is connected with the state, but, despite campaigns such as that run by the Guardian,[53] the impact they can have on protecting children from harm is often overlooked (other curriculum demands are consistently made). Community liaison officers and school nurses are essential to delivering the messages and supporting teachers who provide Personal, Health, Social and Relationship Education (PHSRE).

 

There is also important scope here for other Youth Service input, helping to reduce the possibility that disaffected young people may become radicalised (cf the Home Office ‘Channel’ programme,[54] which some believe needs further consideration) or permanently marginalised from wider society.[55]

 

Clear policies must be developed to encompass PSHRE and wider child safety / protection in schools and other youth settings.

 

 

Safety of victims

 

The issues around protection of children and of adult women are complex and as yet inadequately addressed, but there is also another very serious problem: how can police guarantee the safety of a child or woman who is perhaps willing to risk charges against her close relatives?

 

At a time when in the UK there are no ‘safe houses’[56] [57]  for young girls to flee FGM or related horrors, and there are also increasingly few places to which women experiencing any sort of violence may escape,[58] the only recourse may be a court order and subsequent formal care.  Not only, however, does almost nobody in the relevant communities know about any of these possibilities, but there is very little likelihood that a woman or girl in an FGM practising community would risk everything – perhaps her whole way of life – by requesting such help, especially if she thereby loses access to the home she has established (and sometimes herself paid for), and/or if she believes such an action will result in permanent exclusion from her family and / or community.

 

‘Safe houses’ have now been established in some traditionally practising countries. They must also be set up in the UK, liaising between the police and other safeguarding agencies. There is an urgent need – easily economically justified, if set against the probable alternative outcomes without safe houses – to develop these protective domiciles for women and girls at risk of gendered violence.

Safe houses serve different purposes for women and girls escaping different imminent risks. Whilst, eg, an abusive partner may well continue to pose a serious threat for years, the same may not be true for a child who avoids FGM and whose parents then learn why this must not happen[59].  In such a case (the latter) it may be possible to reconcile the family members without further risk to the child.  Obviously, the way/s that enforcement personnel respond to these different scenarios must also vary according to anticipated or hoped-for longer term outcomes.

Engaging the community

 

Community liaison is an essential aspect of police work around FGM.  The problem however, as we have noted, is that there are not enough police personnel with a good understanding of the communities involved.  Nonetheless, sometimes it is better – for reasons of confidentiality – if the person involved is not actually a member of that community.

 

It is also critical to understand that FGM will not be stopped ‘simply’ by increasing knowledge around health and similar impacts.  Faith leaders and other activists must be brought into the equation – always recognising that ‘leaders’ may be self-appointed and have complex agendas.

 

A perennial issue when working with community activists is their feeling that they are being exploited, unpaid, to do the ‘real’ work of outside agencies.  This issue has as yet hardly even been recognised.

 

Development of fair and effective protocols between the police and communities is required as a matter of urgency.

 

 

8. Effective policing of FGM – enforcement and prosecution

 

Contexts: FGM is not a ‘women’s’ (or a ‘health’) problem

 

The legal situation in regard to FGM is non-negotiable, but processes to uphold it may vary according to context.  Nonetheless, it is important to see that FGM is not at base a ‘women’s’ or a ‘health’ problem.  It is a seriously illegal act which requires pro-active intervention by the police, working where possible with other agencies.

 

Excuses for inaction by the Police are not acceptable; they must be convincingly, and of course sensitively and appropriately, at the forefront of action to stop this happening to children. In other words, interventions must be carefully considered and agreed with, but not always led by, other agencies.

Investigations

 

Cross-border and community intelligence is vital to investigations of where and by whom FGM may be inflicted on children.  This includes pro-active use of the same sorts of methodologies employed to detect other crime – ie the use of full IT analyses etc.

 

The Police have not for the most part (there are honourable exceptions) so far demonstrated an enthusiasm for pro-active investigations of possible FGM. To gain traction they must revisit and improve upon this position, learning wherever possible from colleagues who have already focussed on the issues.

Multi-agency collaboration

 

Midwives, general medical practitioners (GPs), health visitors, teachers, youth workers, social and probation officers etc all have an important role to play in eradicating FGM in Britain.  Multi-agency liaison is there critical to success; but how these collaborations are conducted requires more consideration: there is a risk of inter-professional contestation[60] unless clear direction at a higher level is evident.   And at present the role of Public Health is frequently overlooked, perhaps in part because its status as a service provider is currently a matter of some debate, at least in England.[61]

 

It is not enough to provide ‘multi-agency’ guidelines. Clear top-level direction (and accountability) is also required in ensuring that each sector performs optimally. Further, the very important contribution which Public Health – the overarching service – can bring to delivery has been little considered.

Legally admissible evidence of FGM

 

On occasion it is necessary to examine a child or woman intimately to ascertain whether, or to what extent, damage from FGM has taken place.   Questions of consent in such cases are much like those in other instances of suspected intimate violence but there is also another issue, legal rather than medical, which is rarely acknowledged: what is the nature of the ‘evidence’ required, to suggest FGM has occurred?

 

Medical anthropology concerning FGM is currently an incomplete science, as a case brought to the Family Court quite recently[62] demonstrates: there was inconclusive visual evidence that the small girl had been ‘cut’, but the possibility that the ‘tool’ for the assault (as a baby) might have been a sharp finger nail, leaving not a clear scar but an indeterminate mark[63], was not considered. Yet, as the 2015 RCOG Guidance indicates,[64] that is the mode of FGM in some communities.

 

Police surgeons and prosecutors must work with medical anthropologists to determine what sort of evidence, given by whom, is appropriate for legal cases to go forward. Medical anthropology is not however currently well equipped to respond to this need; the emphasis, especially in the USA, continues in most cases to be on a relativist (anthr/apologist[65]) stance which sometimes overlooks legal prohibition.  In the first instance therefore this will require serious research to identify the indicators for different types of harm.

 

 

Issues around choice: ‘designer vagina’ and male circumcision

 

Whilst questions of choice in regard to, eg, genital cosmetic surgery (‘designer vagina’) are complex, it must be acknowledged – as some legal experts in the police have observed[66] – that these matters muddy the waters, at least in respect of adults who choose to have the surgery (there is a growing feeling that children are very unlikely to be eligible[67]).

 

The situation in regard to male circumcision (male genital mutilation, MGM) is also highly contentious,  with some claiming it is ‘different’ from FGM and others disagreeing[68] – although deaths from MGM are regularly reported.

 

It is essential that the contested issues of ‘designer vagina’ and male circumcision be fully clarified, bearing always in mind that the issues of consent (possible only for adults) are critical.

9. General issues and considerations

 

It would be difficult to claim that the current position concerning FGM and policing is tenable or effective.  Despite some highly committed work by all parties, the gulf between the police, other professionals and the communities which may practice FGM is wide.

 

Doubtless, the aim by various UK organisations to eradicate FGM ‘in a generation’, or ‘in 15 years’ is genuinely held, but measurements of time without open measurement also of planned and directed, allocated resources tend to have little meaning.   For that reason, in my view, the emphasis on ‘multi-agency’ work alone will not put an end to FGM in the UK (or indeed anywhere else; but I will discuss here only the UK context).  The multi-agency approach is a necessary component of, but not alone an adequate or sufficient pathway to, FGM eradication.

 

What is missing is accountable leadership, both within and, even more importantly, across the many organisational elements involved in combatting FGM.   The first vital point here is this: there must be leadership, and it must be openly accountable, both to those who are most affected and to those who, as UK citizens, are footing the bill. And the second vital point? Accountability and resourcing both require a thorough understanding of the issues and how they inter-connect.

 

But currently ‘the bill’– required resourcing – for eradicating FGM is an amorphous notion, spread variously and in small amounts across many, not necessarily conjoined, public and third sector organisations (all of which need to pay their own staff and costs) and in even smaller amounts between the critically important community groups and activists who often ‘work’ for no payment, not even expenses – a guaranteed way to ensure distrust, or at best uncomfortable co-existence, between different parties with the same declared objective.  It is hardly surprising that this set-up has yet to deliver eradication.

 

This situation of course applies to many other aspects of social policy in general, and policing in particular.   To be blunt, it is symptomatic of a general politic which has little sympathy or time for comprehensive and co-ordinated, carefully cost-effective, approaches to socio-economic challenges. Currently, the emphasis is, rather, on what can be delivered by small-scale intervention (preferably, if the time is right, with maximum publicity) and occasional appeals to ‘collaboration’ – another way of promoting the ‘multi-agency’ approach.

 

Such positioning is unlikely, however, to deliver longer-term.  A different (or at least more comprehensive) approach is required.

 

 

 

10. Strategic (high level policy) observations and recommendations

 

These are some suggested strategies, with particular focus on the role of the police, for securing safety of women and children and the eradication of FGM and related human rights abuses in the UK:

 

Acknowledge that human rights abuses are fundamentally connected with economics and power. Somewhere along the line someone is probably making money from the abuse, or / or feels a ‘need’ – psychological or economic – to subject the abused person/s to their will.  Mostly, FGM and similar cruelties are organised crime; it’s big business which has long roots into history and sprawling branches across many national borders.

Once this is recognised there is a cogent case for approaching abuses in a co-ordinated way.  Abuse is a crime and, from the perspective of law enforcement, it must be tackled as such.  And human rights abuses often come ‘packaged’; they connect in that one, say FGM, is a ‘requirement’ for another, say CEFM.  But whether or not packaging of this sort occurs, it is vital to remove the veneer of ‘culture’ from the perceptions of enforcement officers and, as soon as possible, from the understandings of possibly practising communities.

 

The ‘all abuse is crime’ (not so-called culture) perspective may also help squeamish or reluctant officers to cope with what may be for them ‘difficult’ and intimate issues, such as FGM, with its sexual and ‘race’ overtones. (Recognise also however that diversity of service personnel is critical – the aim is to stop the abuse, but for that to happen there must be connectivity with the communities where it occurs.  It must be acknowledged, for instance, that family ties between women who have already experienced FGM and their daughters, who may be at risk or are also victims, result in psychologically complex and delicate relationships which must be factored into enforcement strategies.)

 

Ensure that the ‘abuse is crime’ position is known to everyone. This is a tough call for activists against FGM in possibly practising communities, but, whilst an understanding of the conflicting situation for victim-perpetrators and their victims in turn is necessary, the ‘abuse’ message is fundamental to moving forward.  It must run through campaigns and enforcement measures at every level.

It is therefore critical that all police activity encompasses this position, albeit always modulated by the specifics of the situation and the needs of vulnerable people involved.

 

To this end it must be noted that currently quite often women who have endured FGM are not aware that things could be different, nor do potential victims understand that FGM is a crime and they should not in any circumstances undergo it.  The criticality of collaboration between the police, schools, health workers and community activists and leaders cannot be over-stressed in these contexts.

 

Create a national post to oversee work in defence of human rights and against abuse, and appoint someone to it who can liaise effectively with all the relevant agencies. This person should have power to determine how budgets – decided by Parliament – will be allocated and who will be responsible for what. Publicly recorded criteria for accountability by this person should be fixed by Ministers in conjunction with the post-holder, who will then in turn agree with the lead officer for each agency involved their particular objectives and evaluation / review criteria.

The national post-holder should also be responsible for the inclusion and support (including resources) of currently marginalised community groups and individual activists and volunteers. It is important in this regard to acknowledge that sometimes training is required to enable voluntary groups to engage fully in the process; but likewise sometimes pressure must be applied to persuade professionals in the field (including the police) that volunteers may have more experience – including in some cases formal qualifications – which already qualify them to be fully involved.

 

Consider carefully the implications for delivery on the ground of the various models available. We have already noted that the multi-agency approach as a stand-alone is unlikely to make FGM and related behaviours history; so an alternative overarching model is required. Ideally such a model would provide an inter-disciplinary paradigm (encompassing perspective) for tackling FGM etc which adopts the general positioning of Public Health and encourages collaboration on the basis of mutually agreed understandings and methodologies.

This paradigm would encourage the sharing of knowledge for mutual benefit, with reductions in inter-agency competition for resources (or, in the case of community groups and activists, resentment at lack of them) because the national lead (role / person) would determine allocations of tasks and resource on the basis of best use and demonstrated willingness to collaborate.

 

The new model, in adopting the general perspective of Public Health, can encompass the ‘4Es’ mentioned above, and gives a clear and critical role to policing, both enforcement and protection. Public Health includes issues around legal requirements.  It is the obvious first point of contact between law enforcement and health / humanitarian considerations.

 

With the above considerations in mind, explore the possibility of a national human rights and anti-abuse police unit, rather than the plethora of small specialist, in some respects local, units which currently operate. Also ensure this national unit is fully integrated into international efforts to combat these crimes.

As we have seen, FGM, CEFM, trafficking and many other forms of abuse are inter-connected; and all are at base economic, trading young and female lives for financial reward.  And all are also fluid / chameleon in their presentation.  Enforcement and protection resources will be most effectively employed if the work of those who investigate the practices and their implementation is co-ordinated at a high level, crossing borders and noting changes in behaviours as they occur.

 

The need for such intelligence must be given considerable traction in operational terms.  Those who investigate human rights and abuse crimes must be well equipped to probe the technologies necessarily employed in modern contexts to enact these cruelties.  Further, the investigations must become pro-active, as in other areas of criminal activity.

 

But whilst pro-active investigations are required – it is unacceptable to await reports and complaints before enquiries begin – a protocol specifically addressing the challenges of FGM at the same time as respecting individual privacy and freedom of movement must be developed. Mandatory reporting for those in regulated activity has helped in this respect but obviously it doesn’t really cover police officers – who are the people who receive the reports made by mandated professionals.

Such a protocol would assist considerably in moving on from the concern of some police officers (and likewise teachers, social workers etc) that required professional intervention will be seen as, eg, racist. It must therefore be developed in conjunction with the relevant communities and other directly involved parties.

 

At present there is little common ground between most of these formal and informal agencies; to a significant extent it is the responsibility of the Police, in their roles as enforcers of the law and protectors of the vulnerable, to step up on these issues.

 

Resourcing and financial considerations

 

The human costs of FGM are truly tragic and well documented; but lest anyone imagine otherwise, the economic costs are also enormous.[69]  To date however almost no research has been conducted on the cost effectiveness of interventions to eradicate FGM in Britain.

 

This work must be done as soon as possible.  Not only will it provide important data about the optimal modes of intervention, but it could reveal some measurable information on the costs which are currently ignored to local economies and, most importantly of all, to the families of affected individuals, and the women and girls themselves.[70]

 

Significant resourcing of all the different levels of intervention (statutory, agency and voluntary) is required to eradicate FGM in Britain; but not intervening is far more costly still.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The positioning of the Police in regard to FGM and related human rights abuses has not to date been adequate.  It is very likely that vulnerable people have been harmed who could have been spared the hurt if policing had been more proactive.  (This is also the case in respect of the cancellation in 2011 by Lynne Featherstone whilst a minister of the original previous government’s national FGM coordinator role[71] and thereby the nascent national FGM unit – then only reintroduced some four years later.)

 

The failure of the Police to face up to their important duties around FGM and HTPs has left the field open for others to take the lead (many of them admirably, within their remit).  This situation must be revisited as a matter of urgency.  FGM is far too important to be a marginalised by those who should protect the vulnerable and enforce its eradication.

 

 

 

~ ~ ~

 

 

 

APPENDIX 1: Parameters of this paper

 

 

 

Please note:

 

[1] The observations which follow cannot be taken in isolation as applying ‘only’ to FGM. They are also in general significant in the context of parallel criminal activity such as forced and early ‘marriage’ (in reality community-sanctioned rape) and child ‘marriage’ (sanctioned paedophilia), other forms of (especially sexual) child abuse and harmful traditional practices[72], human trafficking, ‘honour’ killing and related behaviours which violate the human rights of individuals, especially those – often women and children – who are not in a position to defend themselves.  It is important to understand in all these contexts that the crime itself, whilst always an offence against the person, is also at some level economic in its intention: the ultimate aim, overt or otherwise, is to benefit financially from the harm inflicted.[73]

 

 

 

[2] The term ‘victim’ is used throughout this submission, to recognise that individuals who have undergone FGM have been subjected to a crime. It must be noted however that some women and girls with FGM prefer to be referred to as ‘survivors’ – a term which reflects their determination to move forward from the assault.  The use in formal legal parlance of this term, ‘survivor’, requires caution, as it may be perceived to suggest that FGM is a ‘condition’ rather than a crime. Whilst those brave women with experience of FGM who advocate against it almost all prefer to be referred to as ‘survivors’, it is vital to remember that many more do not / cannot so advocate – and all of them have been, in legal terms, victims of a serious crime.

 

 

 

[3] Likewise, whilst many different terms are used within communities to refer to FGM (eg ‘cutting’), in formal discussion the correct naming, as the United Nations and, eg, members of the Inter-African Committee on FGM / HTPs,[74] emphasise, is ‘mutilation’.[75]

 

 

 

APPENDIX 2: Harmful traditional practices and related human rights abuse – a brief guide

 

 

 

See eg

 

Harmful traditional practices in diaspora communities (Evie Brown / GSDRC, 2014)[76]

 

Child Sexual Abuse in the African Family Context  (Afruca, June 2015)[77]

 

 

 

The range of HTPs is distressing and wide; and to these must also be added some practices which are also common in modern societies (such as male circumcision and the physical chastisement of children).

 

 

 

Harmful practices include

 

acid attacks

albino victimisation and sometimes killings (for ‘magic’ body parts)

beading (the practice of Morans – young warriors – laying claim to underage girls for sexual exploitation by buying beads and other ornaments for the victim) and

breast ‘ironing’

child sexual abuse

child / early marriage (arranged marriage under the age of legal consent – sexual intercourse in such relations constitutes statutory rape as the girls are not legally competent to agree to such unions) and forced marriage (CEFM), also bride kidnapping

denial of education

denial of family planning / contraception / safe sex

domestic violence

dowry-related violence

ebinyo (teeth-pulling; four times as prevalent in girls as boys)

emotional and psychological violence

female genital mutilation (FGM)

gang or wartime rape

‘honour’ stoning or killing

labia pulling (okukyalira ensiko)

leblouh or gavage (forced fattening)

male genital mutilation (‘male circumcision’) – sometimes also fatal or very dangerous

maltreatment of widows and wife/widow inheritance (when the widow is forced to marry eg her late husband’s brother)

physical punishment (including flogging)

polygamy

sexual assault

sexual harassment

stove burning

socio-economic violence

son preference and female feticide

‘spirit child’ allegations

trafficking of women and girls (for sex), and sometimes also boys and men

twin infant killing and live burial of infants

virginity ‘tests’

witchcraft allegations

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX 3: Recommendations of the HMIC inspection of the police response to honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation

 

– pp.132-134 of the Report

 

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (December 2015) The depths of dishonour: hidden voices and shameful crimes [78]

 

 

 

To the Home Office

Recommendation 1

 

By March 2016, the Home Office should establish a national oversight framework to monitor and report on the progress made in relation to the findings and recommendations in this report.

 

 

 

Recommendation 2 

 

By June 2016, the Home Office, in conjunction with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, should develop an approach to the collection of data recorded by police forces in relation to HBV, FM and FGM. Consideration should be given to this data being recorded as part of the Annual Data Return.

 

 

 

Recommendation 3

 

By June 2016, the Home Office should initiate a review of the existing legislative framework for all forms of HBV, and consider whether new legislation should be enacted to cover:

 

the definition of HBV;

the specific criminalisation of all forms of HBV where existing offences do not adequately deal with the particular context of HBV crimes;

imposition of penalties appropriate to the gravity of such offences, taking account of their inherent aggravating features; and

provision for appropriate protection orders and a legislative scheme setting out the responsibilities in relation to those orders on relevant public services.

 

 

To the National Police Chiefs’ Council

Recommendation 4

 

By March 2016, the national policing lead should develop an action plan which addresses the findings and recommendations made within this report through the national oversight framework. The action plan should include reference to the ways in which forces will raise awareness, within local communities, of the role of the police service in preventing HBV, FM and FGM and protecting victims of HBV, FM and FGM.

 

 

 

Recommendation 5

 

By June 2016, the national policing lead, in conjunction with partner agencies in health, social care and education, should develop a national set of protocols for HBV, FM and FGM to ensure co-ordination and consistency of information sharing at all levels.

 

 

 

Recommendation 6

 

By June 2016, the national policing lead should, in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service, develop an equivalent joint investigation and prosecution protocol for HBV and FM to that which exists for FGM.

 

 

 

Recommendation 7

 

By June 2016, the national policing lead, in conjunction with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, should oversee the development of a national process to co-ordinate the collection and dissemination of all FMPOs and FGMPOs to police forces, together with other relevant court orders.

 

 

 

Recommendation 8

 

By December 2016, the national policing lead, in conjunction with the Home Office, should review whether data collected on police activity associated with HBV, FM and FGM is consistent and accurate. Where the national policing lead is not satisfied that the data is consistently and accurately collected, guidance should be issued to forces in order that a sound evidence basis is established to understand the national picture of related demand on the police service and assist forces in effective resource planning.

 

 

 

To chief constables

Recommendation 9

 

By June 2016, chief constables in consultation with partner agencies should undertake research and analysis using diverse sources to understand better the nature and scale of HBV, FM and FGM in their force areas, and use this information to raise awareness and understanding of HBV, FM and FGM on the parts of their police officers and staff.

 

 

 

Recommendation 10

 

By June 2016, chief constables should ensure that information management processes are in place to record and flag HBV, FM and FGM information in an efficient, effective and systematic way so that the risk to individual victims is identified at an early stage and properly assessed and managed throughout the progression of victim’s case.

 

 

 

Recommendation 11

 

By June 2016, chief constables together with partner agencies should ensure they have clear policies and joint working structures in place to ensure an integrated approach to HBV, FM and FGM between police forces and other agencies.

 

 

 

To the College of Policing

Recommendation 12

 

By March 2016, the College of Policing should produce Authorised Professional Practice guidance to provide current and up-to-date standards for the police service in relation to HBV and FM.

 

 

 

Recommendation 13

 

By June 2016, the College of Policing should review the current approach to risk assessment in relation to cases of HBV, FM and FGM. This should include an assessment of the sufficiency of instruments and methods currently available to assess risk in such cases.

 

 

 

Recommendation 14

 

By June 2016, the College of Policing should establish a process for the collation and dissemination of good practice (‘what works’) for the police service in relation to HBV, FM and FGM.

 

 

 

~ ~ ~

 

See also IKWRO January 2016 media release – HMG e-petition[79]

 

Five steps to strengthen multi-agency responses to ‘honour’-based violence (HBV)[80]

 

IKWRO five steps:

 

Police forces across the UK must take on board the criticisms in the HMIC report of December 2015 and develop effective responses to HBV;

Other services, including education, health, social services and housing, must develop reports on their own readiness to respond to HBV similar to that conducted by HMIC;

Increasing expertise and collaboration across all service providers;

Healthy relationships education in schools that includes HBV, FGM and forced marriage;

Secure funding of those NGOs which provide the greatest help to those at risk.

 

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