The Michigan doctor who is charged with mutilating the genitals of several young girls could face up to life in prison if convicted, but her lawyers will appear in federal court Tuesday and argue that one of the most serious charges should be dropped.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, a devout Shia Muslim living in the Detroit area, is charged with conspiracy, genital mutilation, transporting minors with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, lying to a federal agent and obstructing an official proceeding.
Attorney Elizabeth Yore, international child advocate and head of the EndFGMToday initiative, says the charge of “transporting minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity” is significant, warranted and appropriate.
“Federal prosecutors correctly argue that FGM is sexual assault,” she said.
But, according to MLive.com, a Michigan news site, Nagarwala’s attorney, Shannon Smith, is seeking to have the sexual assault charges thrown out on the grounds that mutilating little girls’ genitals does not give sexual gratification to the perpetrator and therefore cannot be considered a sexual assault.
“They are trying to rewrite history and legislative history with regard to sexual crimes,” says Yore. “That would place an onerous burden on a victim as well as the prosecution to have to prove there was sexual gratification.”
She said the psychological motivations behind sex crimes, especially crimes against children, are varied and complex and should never be part of the burden of proof for a victim.
“It’s all about the abuse, the trauma, the pain done to the child, it’s really irrelevant what were the motivations with respect to the perpetrator,” Yore told WND.
A code of silence
The government’s response to the request by Nagarwala’s lawyer to drop the charge refers to a secret network of FGM conspirators that operate in certain U.S. cities where large populations of Muslim immigrants reside.
“They came into this clinic in the dark of night, they carried out their secret scheme of sexual assault and like most conspiracies there were no records, no medical records, no medical bills, the victims were scared silent and the investigators were lied to,” Yore said.
She compared it to the mafia’s Omerta, or code of silence.
“That’s why the mafia was able to carry on their criminal activity for so long because the victims were scared silent,” Yore said.
She says this is why it took 21 years for the first case of FGM to be prosecuted in a federal court, even though Congress passed a law against the barbaric Third World practice in 1996.
“Now we know why. It’s a parallel society, they know it’s illegal, and they build this whole conspiracy of silence around the procedure,” Yore said. “And after it’s done nobody says a word, and that’s why it’s so important for the child welfare and health community to be aware and alert to this. Nobody finds because nobody is looking for it.”
Egyptian Journalist Rabab Azzam, in a recent interview captured by Middle East Media Research Institute, described the procedure as being carried out by an underground network in her native country, where 91 percent of all girls are mutilated before marriage.
Azzam underwent FGM at age 13. She describes it as a “collective massacre,” involving her aunt colluding with other family members. A “well-known gynecologist” in Cairo performed the procedure on her without anesthesia.
“We were playing together and all of a sudden they took us,” she said. “My mother could not make the decision. Both of my parents were totally out of the picture. My aunt is kind of strong, and she took us to the doctor. Me and four other girls. We didn’t understand what was going on. They didn’t tell us.”
Watch Rabab Azzam describe the harrowing experience of being victimized by a doctor in Egypt.
Azzam said she left the doctor’s clinic in extreme pain and “humiliated beyond words.”
Yore said there is no medical or hygienic reason for FGM, which in Muslim-dominated communities is called “female circumcision.”
U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman is expected to rule quickly on the defense’s assertion about sexual gratification.
“So I guess this is all the defendants have: To say ‘oh, well, there was no sexual gratification on the doctor’s part,’ and the second part is to say she didn’t do any cutting, it was just a wiping, a scraping, but not a cutting,” Yore said. “They use a wave of nuanced words. There was a cutting away, there was damage done to their female genitals. There was no nuanced wiping. What the hell is that? I think it’s important for us to stay diligent and refute their phony arguments.”
According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 513,000 women and girls in America have either had the procedure done to them or are at risk of having it done.
Leaning on the First Amendment to justify FGM
Dr. Nagarwala’s lawyers have also claimed she was merely engaging in a harmless religious practice that traces back to her homeland of western India, and that the government is trying to deny the doctor her First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.
If the court buys that argument, it could throw open the doors to other bizarre religious practices such as honor violence, child marriage and polygamy.
But Yore said the most immediate affect would be to require another layer of proof for victims of sex crimes.
“If we go down that slippery slope and actually dismiss the charges and buy their argument that the doctor must receive sexual gratification then I think we have the slow imposition of sharia law, and we deny the long history we have of prosecuting these crimes of sexual assault in this country, because this crime always focuses on the trauma and horror imposed upon the victim, and so the legislators recognize there was no requirement that sexual gratification be proved on the part of the perpetrator,” she said.
“But they’re going to fight, the defense is going to throw everything at this case, because they want the rights to do this,” Yore continued. “It’s going to be every step of the way a battle to reduce the charges, to minimize the behavior of the defendants. It’s bad enough these girls went through it but then they have to describe and try to prove what was going on in the defendant’s head? That is the burden the defendant wants to place on these little victims.”
But Dr. Nagarwala’s lawyer, Shannon Smith, says Yore is “sensationalizing” her client’s situation.
“There is such a range when it comes to genital cutting that it is very unfair to classify all of it under the term ‘mutilation.’ Everyone involved in this case, including my client, is against ‘mutilation,'” Smith told WND in an email.
Smith expounded on the topic of FGM and her client with the following statement:
“Further, the nick to the foreskin removes far less than what is removed during a male circumsicion which has been an accepted religious tradition for centuries. Although we tend to be egocentric and many people in the US are not familiar with the thought of female circumsicion or nicking the foreskin….that does not make it wrong.
“The bottom line is that female genital mutilation is not accepted (nor should it be), it’s not religious, it causes injury, it’s harmful and there are many bad side effects. The nick of the foreskin, on the other hand, is based on religious beliefs, more symbolic than anything else, causes no injury, no harm and there are zero side effects.”
Twenty-five states have laws banning female genital mutilation, and Yore is trying to get the other 25 to do the same. The federal government cannot be counted on to try every case, due to changes in the politics of Washington and staffing limitations.
Maine is the most recent state to try to pass a law but it has failed. About 12 percent of Lewiston, Maine’s population are Somali immigrants, and 98 percent of parents in Somalia force FGM on their daughters.
“Education, frankly, it’s helpful, but the only way you are able to deter criminal behavior and cultural behavior that is criminal, is if you criminalize it under the law,” Yore said. “We’ve seen that with child pornography, with child abduction, you can’t just educate, cross your fingers and hope it’s not going to happen.”
By having a criminal law on the books, it also emboldens people in America’s immigrant communities who wish to break with this barbaric cultural practice.
“They have the luxury now of saying that it’s against the law, it gives them a ready excuse, a good excuse, to not participate in this cultural norm brought over from their native lands,” Yore said.
“Just educating immigrants is not enough,” she said. “I’m learning that the criminalization of FGM affords vulnerable women who come to this country the protection of the law, and they’re entitled to protection of the law, but if it’s not there, and we’re just sending them to a five-minute video, that does not work. It’s not going to deter the massive imposition of this centuries-old practice.”