UKIP are not the only ones peddling dangerous myths about FGM


It would be tempting to dismiss UKIP’s newly-announced manifesto policy on female genital mutilation as simply the latest ravings of a delusional binbag of wingnuts. Unfortunately, this delusional binbag of wingnuts seem to attract a lot of media attention, earn disproportionate platforms and, as you might have noticed, more than occasionally see their ravings slide into the policy platforms of supposedly sensible parties.

So let’s see if we can cut the legs off this particular cockroach before it scuttles into anyone’s sandwich.

UKIP’s promise is to “implement school-based medical checks on girls from groups at high risk of suffering FGM. These should take place annually and whenever they return from trips overseas.”

The point which most on the liberal-left have been making (correctly) is that this would be a horrific violation of human rights, a discriminatory, racially-targeted policy that would impose something akin to strip-search and sexual assault of very young (and less young) children at least once a year. Lest there be any doubt, most FGM scarring is not immediately obvious and could only be detected by a full legs-akimbo, smear-test-stirrups style procedure. Let there be no euphemisms or sugar coating here.

If implemented, the policy would also surely result in all kinds of unintended consequences, including children being taken out of school to avoid the examinations (not necessarily because they have been mutilated, either.)  It would be phenomenally expensive and an administrative nightmare.

Beyond all that, however, there is a bigger point which UKIP need to understand, but so too does almost the entire political and media establishment. It is this:

There is no evidence that any girls in British schools are at ‘high risk of suffering FGM’ in the first place. There is only the most scant evidence that any girls in British schools are at any identifiable risk of suffering FGM at all.

As we have noted before on this blog, for the past couple of years the Department of Health has been building up a database of all British (or British-resident) women who have been identified as having suffered FGM. For the past year, they have also been trying to collect data on whether those women were born in Britain, and in which country the FGM was performed.

From the most recent figures, over 1,200 FGM survivors were newly identified by the NHS. (That quarterly figure has been fairly constant since they began recording.) Of those, precisely 14 were born in Britain, and in only 11 cases was the FGM procedure performed in Britain.

Now, it is still not possible to identify cases where a girl was born outside the UK, brought here to live, taken out of the country to be mutilated then brought back again. Such cases could exist. However the smart money would still be that virtually all of the identified FGM survivors in the UK were cut before they migrated here with their families or as adults.

But wait, there is some new information in the recent figures. Of those 14 cases they did find, 85 percent (I calculate that as all but two) were categorised as FGM survivors because they had genital piercings.

Now, this issue gets a little complicated because there are some cultures in parts of the world which do inflict genital piercings upon girls or women as a form of FGM. (This is categorised as Type IV FGM by the WHO). However, you may recall that when this statistical evaluation was first announced, there was widespread concern that the type of routine decorative (or recreational) genital piercings voluntarily undertaken by many women could be mistakenly categorised as FGM.

It is also worth noting that, with very few exceptions, genital piercings can be easily removed with little or no lasting damage, leading one to question just how relevant they are to the very real horrors of Type 1 or Type 2 FGM.

We don’t know how many of the 12 FGM piercing cases are ‘true’ FGM and how many are harmless piercings (or whether they overlap with the 11 cases where the procedure was performed in the UK.) We also don’t know how old those 12 patients were when they were pierced, which would be very useful data.

The bottom line, however, is that across the entire NHS, the numbers of women being found who were born in the UK to immigrant families and who were then subjected to FGM are tiny. Yes, such cases exist and they are appalling and must be stopped, but they can probably be counted on the fingers of a hand or two, across the entire country.

In turn, what this implies is that far from being a huge socio-medical problem within African or Arabic migrant communities in Britain, FGM (in this country) is a spectacularly rare offence. It is highly likely that if UKIP were to somehow get their policy implemented, the authorities could go for months or even years before identifying a single case of a schoolgirl who has been mutilated while under the protection of British law.

To put this in grim perspective, it is highly likely that if we introduced routine genital screening of all schoolchildren there would be vastly higher proportions of cases of bruised and damaged genitals from forced sexual child abuse uncovered than cases of FGM, even within communities which are nominally high risk. Now ask whether we would accept all our children being given genital examinations once a year and what UKIP would say if we suggested examining their daughters (and sons) just in case.

There’s a depressing political point to this. It has long been inevitable that a party like UKIP would put forward this policy sooner or later. (I’m just grateful it’s not their near-cousins in the Conservative party.) For years, if not decades, there has been a highly irresponsible narrative pushed by my own friends on the liberal left, including the charity sector and the broad feminist movement, insisting that hundreds of thousands of girls in Britain are “at risk” of FGM. It has always been almost entirely evidence-free, calculated using estimates of the size of ethnic / cultural communities in the UK combined with the estimated prevalence of FGM in those countries. There was never any allowance made for the fact that migrant peoples might change their behaviour at the first opportunity, that they might be tempted to observe the law, to learn from public health education efforts, or that FGM might be exactly the type of problem that they wanted to move to this country to avoid in the first place.

These ‘At risk…’ statistics have been a glittering gift to outright racists and petty bigots from UKIP or worse.  They basically portrayed African and Arabic (or more commonly and more inaccurately, Muslim) communities as brutally patriarchal savages who love nothing more than to butcher the genitals of little girls.

To be clear, FGM is and remains a huge public health problem in some parts of the world and is a horrible, traumatising experience for many or most of those who are subjected to it. There are undoubtedly many thousands of women living in Britain today who have been mutilated and who may need extensive physical and/or psychological interventions to heal. There is also still a desperate need for better research, better data, better understanding of the nature and scale of the problem here. However reducing and eliminating FGM is, overwhelmingly, a matter of public health and education in those countries where it is commonly practised. They do not include the United Kingdom.

UKIP’s policy proposal is ignorant, dangerous and ill-informed and we would expect little else from them. More importantly, it is high time the political mainstream stopped the nonsense and adopted language and approaches that are based upon evidence, not scaremongering.

Comments

  1. StillGjenganger says

    Thanks for a good summary of the (non)problem.

    Might one suggest that the talking up of FGM by the left is part of a not uncommon pattern where rare or distant problems are grossly exaggerated, and conflated with more common happenings here, as a deliberate strategy to gain traction for some cherished but not universally popular political proposal?

  2. Holms says

    UKIP’s promise is to “implement school-based medical checks on girls from groups at high risk of suffering FGM. These should take place annually and whenever they return from trips overseas.”

    Wow. Checking inside the undies of all minority girls every year plus every time they travel abroad, on the negligable chance of catching evidence of illegal surgery. There’s bad policy, and then there’s UKIP policy.

    So, UKIP are on board with massive invasions of privacy in the name of catching potential crimes. Surely then they’d be on board with snooping people’s internet traffic just in case people are accessing anything illegal, or warrantless phone tapping in case crimes are being planned, or surprise home inspections by police in case drugs or stolen goods are being hidden there… no? Just the genitals of brownish girls then.

    Amazing.

  3. Marduk says

    Admiral Ackbar: It’s a trap.

    1. Argue for routine annual genital inspections.
    Listen to it get called unacceptable, dangerous, etc.
    2. Wait a bit, point out this is what happens in ‘aspirational’ European countries like Sweden and Germany anyway as a matter of routine paediatric health monitoring and something that appears regularly in pan-European policy proposals and frameworks..

    @Holms

    “Surely then they’d be on board with snooping people’s internet traffic just in case people are accessing anything illegal, or warrantless phone tapping in case crimes are being planned, or surprise home inspections by police in case drugs or stolen goods are being hidden there… no?”

    Home entry aside, I assume unless they say otherwise UKIP supports those things given all major political parties do.

    https://arstechnica.co.uk/tech-policy/2016/11/investigatory-powers-act-imminent-peers-clear-path-for-uk-super-snoop-law/

    When they say ‘security agencies’ turns out they include such vital defenders of the realm as the DVLA, the Food Standards Agency (Scotland) and the Ambulance Service ombudsmen amongst others. In the original plans your local council could have a look too but now they’ll have to put their claims in via other bodies.

    Secure end to end encyption technically doesn’t exist in the UK now although its been pointed out recently to the government if they try and enforce it every scientific and financial institution in the country will have to shut down its system the same day as they will be in breach of international standards. This includes all the nuclear power stations.

  4. Marduk says

    Speaking of the crimes of the liberal commentariat:
    http://ikwro.org.uk/2017/03/violence-survivors-withdraw/

    I had to look very hard to find out what had happened with this because it wasn’t reported anywhere.

    White middle class people seemed to think this was very important when Philip Davies opposed it, now its not worth mentioning now it turns out survivors and at-risk groups definitely don’t want it either?

    Its odd because it was “necessary”, “essential” and “much needed” at the time. In all those comments flying back and forth across Twitter, the pages of the Graun, the Indy and Tumblr, it seems everyone forgot to ask the most important question of all.

    I know I’m throwing you under the bus Ally but me too, I hold my hand up and I’m much chastened frankly. Your ‘outraged liberal commentators’ of Twitter now looks like a list of self-righteous white people who don’t care to ask or listen while insisting they know best. Anyone can make a mistake but burying it is something altogether worse.

  5. That Guy says

    @ Marduk,

    The problem wasn’t the bill being opposed, per se, but Phillip Davies being an arsehole in his doing so, with arsehole reasons.

  6. Marduk says

    6. Sure, I understand that, but what the issue was and what people claimed are were not actually the same thing. People pretended Davies was opposing helping people because he doesn’t want them to be helped. Their rhetoric in reply was that people MUST be helped in this very specific way and Davies is a monster for opposing it. On examination, neither of those things turned out to be true to ironic and problematic effect. I’m just saying there is a lesson here.

  7. Lawrence Newman says

    Funny, I never hear you or anyone else from the Left campaign against the non-medical, illegal human rights violation, sexual suppression and grievous bodily harm that is male “circumcision” (male genital mutilation) that the NHS and private clinics carry out to please Jews and muslims every day.

    It’ll be a cold day in Hell before you do, too.

  8. Marduk says

    Not every time. Not most times. Not often. Just once, prove the point. You could make it about why its never ok to stab someone and smash glass against them while they are presumably writhing in agony but lets not walk before we run. You can say its exceptional, unusual or bizarre. I don’t mind if you make it about Benevolent Sexism, you could make it about old white men in the judiciary, you could even make about it social class. 34 articles about “Girls” in one month, don’t tell me there isn’t room.

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/may/16/oxford-university-lavinia-woodward-stabbed-boyfriend-may-avoid-jail

  9. Carnation says

    @ Marduk

    How about saying something like “actually, this is progressive and I can see why this has happened. I’d like to see more of this type of sentencing, particularly for men.”

  10. StillGjenganger says

    @ Carnation
    Simon Jenkins in the Guardian says almost exactly that. And it is a good and convincing article. Still, when a privileged person is treated well where anybody else would be treated badly, both kinds of reaction seem reasonable If a member of the Bullingdon club had glassed some asian waiter and got off with out a conviction, which way would your reaction go?

  11. Carnation says

    @ GJGanger

    Good point, however, I don’t think anyone is saying she shouldn’t have been convicted – just that maybe jail isn’t an appropriate punishment.

    I also think, unpopular as this might seem, that a one-off domestic incident should be treated very, very different to the perpetrator of a campaign of abuse/stalking/harassment.

  12. StillGjenganger says

    @Carnation.

    I’d agree on that. And, FWIW, in the absence of information to the contrary I would assume that the judges made a sensible decision in this case. After all, they mostly do.

  13. David S says

    @Carnation (11)

    I also think, unpopular as this might seem, that a one-off domestic incident should be treated very, very different to the perpetrator of a campaign of abuse/stalking/harassment.

    I think it depends a bit on whether the incident is “one off” in the sense of being the first time she has been violent with a partner, or whether it is maybe the first time she has been prosecuted, or the first time she has reached for a knife, or the first time she has been violent with this particular partner. Obviously we have no way of knowing that, and it is the sort of thing that is rather removed from my own, rather sedate, home life. However the impression I have always had is that domestic violence doesn’t usually just come out of the blue, there is a pattern of escalation, and if someone is literally going at it daggers drawn then there would probably have been previous incidents.

    That said I can see that judges can only sentence on the evidence before them, and that even if there was a pattern, helping her deal with it might be better than locking her up. The suggestion that she has been spared because of her potential future career sounds a bit odd though (if it’s true which, given the way the press report these things, is a big “if”). I would prefer it if the medical profession was exercised by people who could be trusted with sharp implements.

  14. Marduk says

    9. Because a feminist activist would never say that. As we’ve discussed before, feminists leave the progressive stack on issues of crime and punishment where they are generally to the right of the Tories and only narrowly to the left of UKIP/BNP (“Bring back hanging”) with occasional exceptions made in cases of ‘intersectionality’. I wanted to see how “zero tolerance” feminists treat this event, the answer is they’ve ignored it as expected because its too awkward. Just like they always do.

    For what its worth I don’t think stabbing someone and then continuing to glass them should ever lack a custodial sentence in any circumstances, you can read the guidelines given to judges to set mitigation in cases like this and she qualifies for none of them. Knife crime is too deep a problem in this country and this sends the wrong message to people in a far more vulnerable and disadvantaged positions. You have to consider the equation being put to a young person thinking about carrying a knife for their own protection, we’re weighting the sure and certain judgement of the law against their own probably not-so unrealistic fears of vulnerability, there cannot be room for grey areas in that. Unlike the judiciary, I care more about them a lot more than I do about her.

  15. Carnation says

    @ Marduk

    “Because a feminist activist would never say that. As we’ve discussed before, feminists leave the progressive stack on issues of crime and punishment where they are generally to the right of the Tories and only narrowly to the left of UKIP/BNP (“Bring back hanging”) with occasional exceptions made in cases of ‘intersectionality’”

    Well, it’s probably just as well that judges aren’t noted for their feminist activism then, isn’t it?

    Oh, by the way;

    “feminists leave the progressive stack on issues of crime and punishment where they are generally to the right of the Tories and only narrowly to the left of UKIP/BNP”

    I can only conclude that you’re either ill-informed or rather stupid. Which feminists do you mean? The Green Party? WEP? Or the anonymous ones on blogs with zero power and influence that push your buttons so expertly?

  16. Marduk says

    No, the Judge in this case is a practitioner of benevolent sexism in the face of domestic violence.

    WEP aren’t the best example but lets take a look at their manifesto anyway. God, where to begin. Most of it is basically illegal under UK and EU equalities legislation but in keeping with what I’m saying, they make no mention of prison reform so I assume they are perfectly happy with things as they are (at least not enough to prioritize it), they do however offer a range of new offences including declaring, in certain cases, making ‘abandonment’ a form of domestic violence and making certain types of domestic violence ‘persecution’, putting it in the reach of international prosecutors. Interestingly they will also make all forms of ‘community-based arbitration’ illegal, which aligns them with UKIP, BNP and England First.

  17. Carnation says

    @ Marduk

    So, which “feminists activists” do you actually mean?

    Or was it just an idiotic throwaway remark?

    Feminazis, innit?

  18. Marduk says

    19.
    Well you nominated them, they’ll do I guess.
    Know of any prison reform minded feminists who think there are already too many crimes on the books?

  19. That Guy says

    @all I haven’t followed this thread for a while, so forgive my late interjection-

    WRT the domestic abuse case concerned- Wether someone should receive a custodial sentence for a one off instance of violent domestic abuse, I am not best placed to say. Obviously, my lizard braid tells me that someone should be locked up for stabbing and glassing their partner, but I don’t know what the evidence says is the best way to prevent re-offending is in these circumstances.

    What does irk me, is the language around this case, and the classism therein. IF the perpetrator hadn’t been an aspiring surgeon, and instead had been a waitress, or unemployed, or working the checkouts at the local poundland, would she have been banged up then?

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