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Met Police on FGM: ‘Prosecutions Alone Won’t Change Anything’

FGM Jean-Marc BoujuAP
Jean-Marc Bouju/AP

Arrests and prosecutions alone will not stop female genital mutilation (FGM) in Britain, the Metropolitan Police has said, stressing the importance of “having conversations” with migrants for whom “community ties” are paramount.

The comments came just days after new government figures showed that while the number of new cases of women and children having their genitals cut off for cultural and religious reasons continues to soar, there has still not been a single prosecution for the crime in the United Kingdom.

Inspector Allen Davis, the London force’s FGM lead, said that securing a prosecution would be “symbolic”, but argued authorities would not be able “to arrest our way out of the problem”.

Speaking at the National FGM Centre’s annual conference, he said there were “a number of challenges to securing convictions” such as victims’ reticence to report family members to police, or being too young to recall details of what happened.

Other complications Davis outlined in his presentation included that concerns over immigration status could act as a barrier to reporting the crime, and that securing a prosecution can be made more difficult by pressure from the ethnic community of the family involved.

“Prosecutions do send out a very strong message to communities that it’s illegal and they act as a deterrent,” the Inspector acknowledged, before going on to stress the importance of educating affected communities on the dangers and illegality of FGM.

“For me as a police officer preventing the harm from happening in the first place is the most important thing,” he said, telling the audience: “Community ties can be thicker than blood, so it is vital we are in those communities having conversations with them so we can end the practice.”

Charity Today reports that speakers at the conference, which was run by children’s charity Barnardo’s in partnership with the Local Government Association, said authorities should focus on preventing FGM rather than seeking to prosecute perpetrators.

Education is central to the National FGM Centre’s work, director Leethen Bartholomew said, explaining: “Not only do we work with girls and their families, raise awareness in schools and train professionals like social workers and teachers how to spot the signs of girls at risk of FGM.”

“If we are to win hearts and minds within communities where FGM is still practised, we must be at the heart of those communities,” he told the conference.

With thousands of new cases of FGM recorded in Britain each year despite the practice having been outlawed since 1985, the UK’s failure to secure a single prosecution was branded a “national scandal” in a report by the Quilliam Foundation this year.

Earlier this month, the BBC reported that Somali women in Wales have demanded an end to efforts to prevent FGM, claiming public sector workers are “persecuting” the community and that the practice no longer takes place in Wales.

“It was always known that 99% of girls were done, but we’re continuing to be persecuted for the crime of our ancestors,” said campaigner Zainab Nur.

“We’re being stigmatised and racially profiled. It’s being classed as an epidemic, when it’s not an epidemic.”

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