Year: 2020

Imprisoned for the crime of being an African woman

The Shifting Sands piece (Injustice arising from pursuit of FGM prosecutions-UK), and Marge Berer’s excellent blog (Prosecution of FGM in the UK: Injustice at the intersection of good public health intentions and the criminal law) discussing in detail the 2019 FGM prosecution and conviction, invite various observations.

Although written in restrained language, Berer’s is a well-reasoned but damning indictment of a trial which has every appearance of being a gross miscarriage of justice caused by ignorance and apparent bias affecting all of the main participants. This view is corroborated by others who attended the trial at London’s Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey).

The context is a societal background of universal brainwashing by the anti-FGM ‘industry’, reciting a narrative constructed in the 1970’s through the blinkered cultural perspective of white, radical feminists. This narrative is exaggerated, largely untrue, and almost irrelevant to the situation in the UK today, yet it continues to be recited verbatim by the mainstream media and accepted uncritically by politicians, state agencies and charities.

This has led to a criminal law which is racist, sexist, hypocritical and intrusive, and a political ‘crusade’ in the form of a frenzied ‘witch-hunt’ to obtain the first conviction for FGM. This has caused enormous social damage to innocent families and their communities. In this case it has destroyed a family and inflicted social harm on both children far greater than any possible consequence of the alleged crime.

Successful proof of a crime normally requires clear evidence of a motive, a ‘weapon’ and an opportunity.  All three of these elements were conspicuously absent in this case.

The Prosecution, presumably desperate to obtain a conviction to justify the political crusade, was highly aggressive and, unable to present specific evidence, resorted to culturally and racially biased character-assassination of the defendant. The Defence appears to have been ineffective, and arguably negligent in not lodging an appeal.

Two young children (a three year-old girl and an eight year-old boy) were repeatedly interrogated over a long period until they finally changed their stories to align with what their interrogators wanted to hear. The boy declined to give his evidence in court.

The Judge admitted evidence brought by the Prosecution which would normally be excluded as highly suspect or irrelevant.

Medical evidence was inconclusive.

The Jury, probably also subconsciously influenced by the insidious anti-FGM narrative, appears not to have understood its duty to convict only if a case is proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The injury to the girl (loss of her inner labia) was little different to cosmetic labiaplasty which is available to white teenage girls on the NHS. There was no suggestion of damage to the girl’s clitoris, which is normally implicated in the most commonly described types of FGM, and lasting consequences are likely to be minimal. Despite this, the mother was sentenced to 14 years, the maximum term allowed. This makes it difficult to avoid a suspicion of extreme bias in favour of the political crusade, with total disregard for the welfare of the girl, the defendant and her wider family.

The Criminal Court proceedings are reminiscent of previous shocking miscarriages of justice:

In Orkney, in the 1990s, allegations of ritualistic satanic abuses led to children being removed from their homes in dawn raids, parents prosecuted and families devastated by what turned out to be nothing more than a figment in the lurid imaginations of a group of social workers and local police officers.

In the early 2000s, mothers Sally ClarkAngela Cannings and Trupti Patel suffered the tragedy of multiple cot deaths. They were prosecuted and imprisoned for murder on the basis of ‘expert’ medical evidence which was later shown to be fundamentally flawed. Despite the absence of evidence of guilt, and without alternative explanations, it was simply assumed that the mother, the person least likely to have harmed the children, was guilty of their murder.

Berer also refers to previous attempts at prosecution which were thrown out of court by either Judge or Jury. Sir James Munby, in his thoughtful judgement in the Leeds case, urged caution in reaching a conclusion which would impose further hardship on implicated children. In contrast, the proceedings described in the Old Bailey trial have characteristics of a ‘kangaroo court’, determined to reach a guilty verdict irrespective of evidence, and to impose the maximum sentence without consideration of its damaging effects on the girl and other innocent parties.

The anti-FGM industry has doubtless been celebrating the imprisonment of this unfortunate woman, using it as a pretext to seek additional public funding to support their interventionist cause. It will be intersting to see whether their celebrations continue when another girl sustains a straddle injury and bleeds to death because her parents, terrified of facing a similar prosecution, do not take her for emergency medical attention.

The woman should be released immediately and the family re-united pending a properly supported appeal or re-trial. The proceedings described gave the mother as little chance of a fair trial as a medieval women suspected of witchcraft being thrown into a pond to see if she would sink or float. She has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for the only crime proven beyond reasonable doubt: that of being an African woman.

UK Somalis ‘racially profiled’ over FGM

By Rachel Stonehouse
Victoria Derbyshire programme Published13 January (BBC News)

Parents are wrongly being arrested and having their children taken into care due to the stigma around female genital mutilation (FGM), members of the UK Somali community have told the Victoria Derbyshire programme. They say figures suggesting tens of thousands of girls are at risk in the UK are inaccurate.

“Social services with the police came to the house, removed our children and arrested my wife. We didn’t know what the allegations were – nobody said anything, nobody asked us anything, it was just really a shock,” said Yusef – not his real name.

The father-of-five said he and his wife had a “good” meeting with their children’s school to tell them the family was relocating to Somaliland for a while.

But four days later the couple were arrested and their children taken separately into foster care, following a safeguarding referral by the school.

They say they were wrongly accused of planning to take their children abroad for FGM.

“Children must be safeguarded – but not if the danger is just assumed,” said Yusef. “They are supposed to verify or investigate it properly, don’t just presume something is going to happen based on someone’s background or ethnicity.”

But police and health workers said safeguarding policies were there for a reason – and protecting children had to be a priority.

‘Huge epidemic’

FGM – intentionally cutting or injuring the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons – is understood to be practised in some African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

It is illegal in the UK and carries a sentence of up to 14 years in jail – the first successful prosecution took place last year.

Zainab Nur

Zainab Nur said people in the Somali community were being victimised

In Yusef’s case, the police took no further action and the children were returned.

Slough Children’s Services Trust has now apologised to the family and upheld seven of their complaints, and agreed to support the withdrawal of the FGM Protection Order, if this is supported by both legal advice and the courts.

It said in a statement: “We appreciate that the process of a child being taken into care is always distressing and, unfortunately, due to the nature of safeguarding, can in exceptionally rare cases happen to families where no further action is taken.

“It’s never our intention to cause any family distress, only to prioritise child protection and to work with our partners to avoid the possibility of vulnerable children ‘slipping through the net’.”

Both the police and the Trust said they could not comment on individual cases, but safeguarding was always the number one priority.

UNICEF figures estimate 98% of women and girls in Somalia have undergone FGM. But Somalis living in the UK say this is inaccurate, and means they have attracted particular attention from FGM safeguarding policy.

Research published by City University in 2015 suggested that 144,000 women were at risk of FGM in England and Wales.

Mothers we spoke to in Cardiff said the message from education providers and the media suggested there was a “huge epidemic” of FGM involving their British-born daughters.

Former social worker and Somali campaigner Zainab Nur, from the Hayaat Women Trust, said she knew more than a dozen cases where children were wrongly taken into care because of FGM risk.

“These policies are having a massive impact,” she said. “We’re being victimised, we’re being racially profiled as being at risk of FGM, and it’s affecting us.”

She also says she knows hundreds of cases where families were wrongly being referred to safeguarding.

One mother, Nimo, said she nearly died after undergoing FGM at the age of eight. She says health professionals sometimes made “automatic assumptions” because of her experience.

“I have a diabetic daughter, she had a urine infection and the doctor says to me: ‘Has she had FGM done to her?’ My daughter she didn’t know anything about FGM, she’d never heard of it.

“These things do happen and we get asked because of the children. I was like, ‘Oh my God’, because I haven’t spoken about FGM in a long, long time.”

‘Stigmatise families’

Dr Saffron Karlsen

Dr Saffron Karlsen says Bristol University plans further research on FGM in the UK

Researchers at Bristol University spoke to 30 Somali mothers, fathers and young adults about their experiences with FGM safeguarding services.

Dr Saffron Karlsen said increasingly the evidence suggested it was not as a big a problem as it was assumed to be.

She said: “We want to see an end to FGM but the way the current system is set up appears to penalise and stigmatise innocent families, and families where’s there’s no evidence to suggest…that their children are going to be exposed to FGM.”

Protecting girls

But Janet Fyle, policy adviser at the Royal College of Midwives, said she disagreed with the concerns, and that safeguarding practices were there for a reason.

“Professionals have the right to ask,” she said. “We know FGM is happening in this country under our noses – it is important to focus on this as that is the real issue.

“Talking about this issue of stigma is distracting – the priority needs to be protecting girls.”

A spokesperson from the Home Office’s FGM Unit said “any actions taken by public authorities in relation to suspected FGM are based on evidence.

“We introduced tough safeguarding laws which compel certain professionals to report if they have encountered a potential child victim of FGM, regardless of what community they are from.”

And the National Police Chiefs’ Council said police, health and children’s services had a responsibility to protect young people from harm.

Commander Ivan Balhatchet, lead for female genital mutilation, said: “When people tell us they have concerns for the wellbeing and safety of a child, police will always investigate, as the public would expect.

“There will be cases where people have genuine concerns relating to children and they should always feel able to come forward and speak to police. We will treat each individual case sensitively and confidentially.”

Judging without knowing us

Victim and criminal: stories from Black women who have been stigmatised by the anti-FGM narrative

February 6th marks the 17th anniversary of the United Nation’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. (FGM).

The ambitious anti-FGM movement that ensued and which actively operates in the UK and internationally, claims to have made great strides in helping to reduce the incidence of this harmful, traditional practice worldwide. Whilst that reduction is welcome, legislative initiatives, policies, surveillance, awareness – raising, and the drive to prosecute have resulted in some Black and Minority Ethnic Communities (BAME) in the UK being specifically targeted and feeling their effects disproportionately.

On Saturday, 8 February 2020, Hidden Voices UK, hosted a theatrical performance called “Judging without Knowing” at Oxford House in Bethnal Green, East London, followed by a panel and open discussion with over 70 people who attended. It was organised in partnership with Women’s Inclusive Team, TALO, Queen of Sheba International, and Acta Community Theatre Bristol.
The event was one of a number of responses to the 17th anniversary of the UN’s 6 February International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and a ground-breaking one

The Play

Judging Without Knowing Us’

Judging Without Knowing Us’ is an original play written and performed by Bristol Somali women. It tells the hitherto unspoken story of women with daughter considered at risk of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), and showcases the damage caused by the current obsession with the practice.
The play, was created entirely by Somali women working with actors from Acta Community Theatre, Bristol. It highlights the damage caused by a now common narrative that surrounds FGM in the UK – a combination of victimhood, stigma and criminalisation.

The play depicts how anti-FGC initiatives and interventions in families suspected of carrying out the practice affects them, and encourages the audience to imagine the trauma they experience purely because on their ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The dominant narrative to date has been one of victimhood, trauma and stigma. But the strong women at the heart of the play, women from the communities who frequently bear the brunt of the narrative that seeks to pre-emptively criminalise them, come out fighting.

The performance puts mothers and daughters at the heart of the issue and shows how women who were “victims of FGM” (mothers who were cut as children, almost all in Somalia in the last century are now primitively criminalised by the assumption that they will have their daughters or granddaughters cut

THE DISCUSSION

There was also an open and rich discussion between the panellists and many well-informed members of the multi-ethnic audience, including women from FGM-affected communities, researchers, health professionals and advocates involved in addressing FGM in diverse ways. It became clear that women and their families and communities are being harassed by “safeguarding”, which is seriously harmful to children when it is not required or justified.