In the wake of the UK’s first trial for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), key players in the region’s criminal justice system are encouraging North East victims to come forward.
The call comes amid fears that many in the North East 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.
Gerry Wareham, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS North East, said: "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.
"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 practice is an assault on the human rights of women and girls everywhere."
Ron Hogg, Durham Police and Crime Commissioner said: "This is an illegal, abhorrent crime and I am working closely with my counterparts in Northumbria and Cleveland to tackle violence against women and girls, through a regional strategy which is now in its second year.
"FGM is to being taken extremely seriously, and is one of the priorities in the strategy. We will work together to raise awareness, in particular with health professionals and across communities and schools. The police will investigate and prosecute where evidence is available across the North East."
Barry Coppinger, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland added: "FGM is an abhorrent crime and there is no justification for such procedures taking place. Victims need to be assured that support is available to those that speak out and where possible offenders will be brought to justice"
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:
- Perform FGM
- Assist or encourage another person to perform FGM
- Assist or encourage the performance of FGM outside the UK
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.
Posted on Friday 6th February 2015