Criminal Justice partners and voluntary sector support services are encouraging victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the region to come forward to raise awareness of their plight.
The call comes amid concerns that many in the region may have been affected by FGM, but that the true scale of the issue is being obscured because of the barriers preventing victims from reporting it.
FGM can have serious consequences for women and girls, physically, emotionally and psychologically; and these consequences are likely to continue throughout the victim’s life. In some cases, this procedure can even result in death. It is not a religious practice and the leaders of all major religions have condemned the practice as unnecessary and harmful.
Barry Coppinger, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland said: “FGM is an abhorrent crime and by raising awareness among key agencies, professionals and the community we can ensure that women and girls are protected from harm.
“FGM features in the regional Violence against Women and Girls Strategy and I am working closely with my regional partners to further tackle the issue.
“Multi-agency guidance has been developed to help professionals and those with safeguarding responsibilities to identify and assess the risks of FGM, and protect and support children and adults.
“This guidance will go a long way in informing professionals who may have concerns about someone and will give victims the confidence to come forward and report, knowing that their case will be handled appropriately.”
Gerry Wareham, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS North East, said: “Police and prosecutors understand how difficult it is for a victim to come forward, especially when she has been told the procedure is performed for her own benefit, and that it is very difficult for a victim to talk about what has happened to her.
“We will work closely with the police to ensure that the welfare of the victim is paramount in all such cases, and will provide appropriate support throughout the prosecution process. Where the victim is a child, we will also liaise with local Safeguarding Children agencies.
“I want to be absolutely clear that where there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction it is likely to be in the public interest to prosecute. This barbaric practice is an assault on the human rights of women and girls everywhere.”
Acting Detective Inspector Pete Littlewood of Cleveland Police’s Protecting Vulnerable People, Child Abuse and Vulnerable Adults Investigations Unit, said:
“Cleveland Police is very much in support of this campaign. We would encourage victims of FGM to come forward and give us information – they will always be believed, safeguarded and supported. Anyone else in the community who has information is also asked to contact police so we can safeguard victims, identify perpetrators and bring them to justice.
“We work closely with other agencies, including Halo, as police cannot deal with FGM on their own. Working with specialist organisations to help and support victims, enables us to build up trust in communities and together we can tackle this crime.”
FGM refers to a range of procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is sometimes referred to as female circumcision or cutting.
Female Genital Mutilation has been a criminal offence since 1985. The current legislation is the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, which replaced the Female Circumcision Act of 1985. The 2003 Act makes it an offence to:
It is also an offence for a UK national or permanent UK resident to perform FGM or assist or encourage someone else to perform FGM in another country, even if FGM is legal in that country. This means, for example, that someone who arranges for a woman or girl who is a UK national to have the operation carried out overseas will be committing an offence.
The serious harm caused to victims is reflected in the sentencing powers of the court. In addition to the offences created by the Female Genital Mutilation Act, there may well be additional offences such as assault or conspiracy, Where the victim is a child, FGM amounts to child abuse. Any person found guilty of the offence could be sentenced to up to 14 years imprisonment.