Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was arrested by the FBI Thursday and charged with carrying out female genital mutilation (FGM) on multiple six to eight-year-old girls at her Livonia, Michigan office.
Dr. Nagarwala’s case is the first FGM prosecution in America under a new law aimed at the practice, according to a press release from the Department of Justice. The 11-page complaint issued accompanying her arrest makes guarded references to “members of a particular religious and cultural community.”
FGM is common in the Islamic world, particularly in Africa. According to UNICEF, 98% of Somali girls, and 87% of Egyptians have endured the procedure. FGM involves removing varying amounts of the victim’s, usually a pre-pubescent girl, clitoris, labia majoria, and labia minora. In its most extreme form, the victim is “infibulated,” having virtually all her external genitalia removed and being sown up, leaving her with only a tiny hole from which to urinate and menstruate.
Nagarwala, who works as an emergency room doctor at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital, is charged with mutilating two Minnesota girls from separate families at her office in Livonia, Michigan. The victims’ identities remain sealed, but Minnesota is host to the largest Somali immigrant population in the United States, a community in which FGM is prevalent. The complaint also alleges multiple Michigan girls have told authorities Nagarwala had cut their genitals as far back as 2005-2007, before the federal law under which she is charged had taken effect.
According to the complaint, the Minnesota victims’ parents brought them to the Detroit suburbs together, telling the children it was a “special girls trip.” They also are alleged to have told the girls the procedure was to “get the germs out.”
One of the victims described her ordeal to the FBI as “getting a shot.” She claims she screamed in pain as she was cut into, the procedure leaving her barely able to walk. She told authorities her parent told her not to talk of what happened in Dr. Nagarwala’s office.
DOJ officials issued statements about prosecuting this type of crime, heretofore unheard of in federal law enforcement. “The Department of Justice is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country, and will use the full power of the law to ensure that no girls suffer such physical and emotional abuse,” Acting Attorney General of the DOJ’s Criminal Division said as he announced the charges against Nagarwala.
Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch, whose office will be prosecuting the case, added, “The practice has no place in modern society and those who perform FGM on minors will be held accountable under federal law.”
“The allegations against the defendant in this investigation are made even more deplorable, given the defendant’s position as a trusted medical professional in the community,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Francis.
Nagarwala faces a maximum of five years for each count of FGM.