Here are some uncomfortable truths: Female genital mutilation occurs. It’s a crisis. It’s almost entirely faith-based. And it’s not limited to Islamic nations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in 2016 that 513,000 girls and women in the United States were at risk for being cut or mutilated.
Just last year, a federal judge dismissed most of the charges against a Michigan doctor, Jumana Nagarwala, who allegedly mutilated more than 100 girls, on a technicality. He said that federal law prohibiting the practice was unconstitutional, as despicable as FGM is, due to a technicality in the way the law was written. (The doctor hasn’t been cleared of everything; she could still receive jail time.)
It was up to the states to fix the problem. But only 35 states have passed legislation banning the practice.
Kentucky is one of the states that has not.
A couple of weeks ago, during a meeting of the Kentucky Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services, three women spoke out against the practice: State Sen. Julie Raque Adams (a Republican); Amanda Parker, senior director at the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation; and “Julie.” Julie was a victim of the mutilation.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about Julie’s testimony was finding out she isn’t Muslim, as she explained in a joint essay for the Courier-Journal:
Born and raised in a white, Christian household in the United States, I (Jennifer) was sent on a long plane ride by my parents for a “special trip.” As a 5-year-old, I was led down dark stairs by strangers, held down, and my mouth covered. Without anesthesia, I was cut.
Every day I am reminded of the emotional and physical consequences of being cut. Though I can’t change what happened to me, there is something that drives my passion to get an anti-female genital mutilation bill passed in Kentucky: my daughters. Unfortunately, I have family members who still subscribe to this practice and believe it must be performed to control the sexuality of women and girls. As long as there is no law banning female genital mutilation in Kentucky, my daughters remain at risk of being subjected to the trauma of this practice.
All of that is horrifying. But I genuinely have no clue what Christian denomination is promoting this. Neither did people at the hearing, apparently, since one asked her that question outright. Her answer, as recorded in the minutes, was puzzling:
Jenny stated that she does not say what denomination of Christian faith that she was aligned with that practices female genital mutilation.
Does she not know what denomination it is? That’d be weird. Does she know but not want to say? That would seem unusual, too, given the courage it takes to testify like this. In April, she did an interview in which she explained she grew up in a “conservative evangelical church where her father was a minister.” She was cut, she said, because deriving pleasure from sex was seen as sinful. She was five years old at the time.
Again, I’d be curious to know what evangelical Christian group does this. I’ve never heard of that. That’s not to say she’s lying, but that maybe her family was doing something their church didn’t necessarily sanction. Who knew we’d be longing for the relatively safer tactic of promoting abstinence…?
Maybe that’s all irrelevant. It happened to her. It happens to other women. The practice still needs to be criminalized.
During the hearing, Julie said that she was hoping a new law would “reach other women who may not know that this is not a safe or legal practice” and “bring more education about female genital mutilation to women and health providers.” There’s no law currently being debated. In 2018, two separate bills were proposed in the State House and State Senate (that one, co-sponsored by Raque Adams), but neither one got anywhere.
Raque Adams said she plans to introduce a new bill that will make female genital mutilation a crime and make it illegal to take girls across state lines for the procedure.
I hope she’s successful. Even in a red state, “religious freedom” shouldn’t be an excuse to allow anyone to torture young girls due to some perverse, archaic beliefs about sex and modesty.
(Image via Shutterstock)