#EndFGMToday Wonders Why Washington Is Waiting. Its Delay on a Key Bill Means Young Girls Are Still at ‘Perilous Risk’ of ‘Trauma and Damage’
October 26, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Eleven states in our nation still have not acted to protect vulnerable young women from a vicious form of child abuse. It’s shocking, really—and strong, decisive action must be taken.
While significant progress has been made in the U.S. to eliminate the ghastly practice known as FGM—female genital mutilation—it is still legal, as of this moment, in Washington and 10 other states. All other states in our nation have taken legislative action to outlaw the outrageous procedure.
It is high time for the 11 holdout states to protect women and girls from the horrors of FGM, says EndFGMToday.
“Real children across our country are at perilous risk to the trauma and damage of female genital mutilation—and FGM truly is a form of child abuse,” says Elizabeth Yore, the internationally renowned attorney and child welfare advocate who heads EndFGMToday. It is why, she says, “we are urging all state legislatures to help protect girls from this painful and barbaric procedure.”
Yore adds, “Washington must remedy its child protection laws immediately. Its bill must specifically criminalize female genital mutilation as the heinous crime it is. Lawmakers must step up to make child protection a priority—there is absolutely no excuse to delay one day longer.”
Sadly, more than half a million women and girls are at risk of FGM across the U.S. While some state legislatures had been moving forward on laws banning the practice, the COVID-19 crisis delayed the legislative process. States must create their own laws against the despicable practice, as a federal ban on it was struck down as unconstitutional in 2018 by a district court judge.
“We often hear arguments or excuses from legislators that female genital mutilation ‘doesn’t happen here,’” Yore says of the procedure. “Yet if there was a way to protect even one girl from experiencing this horror, why not take action?”
She adds, “Eleven states in America currently do not have laws to prohibit female genital mutilation, and that’s 11 states too many. Essentially, this means that nearly a quarter of our states are giving a legal pass to those who carry out and permit this brutal procedure on girls as young as the age of five.”
Yore also notes that “FGM leaves physical and emotional scars for a lifetime.” She knows this all too well, as her group “works closely with women in their 50s and 60s who still deal with the side effects and traumatic memories today.”
In 2020 thus far, a few states—including Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Wyoming—finalized their anti-FGM legislation. On August 6, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed H4606 into law (it takes effect in November). In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear signed SB 72 into law on April 2. In Wyoming, HB0127 sailed through the legislative process and Gov. Mark Gordon signed the bill on March 13.
In Washington’s State Senate, SB 5257 was reintroduced for 2020. But there the bill sits—still stalled.
EndFGMToday suggests the following crucial ways that the 11 holdout states can prioritize proposed anti-FGM laws. States should do the following:
- Examine the forthright actions of other states to fight this tragic form of child abuse. The AHA Foundation grades states based on the strength of their anti-FGM laws.
- Use the Population Reference Bureau to research the number of women and girls in each state who remain at terrible risk for FGM.
- Check EndFGMToday’s state map showing the states that haven’t yet passed anti-FGM legislation.
The 11 states that have still not criminalized the brutality of FGM are Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Washington.
Yore points out that female genital mutilation is a human rights violation, as recognized by both the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Additionally, over 200 million women worldwide have been victims of this cruel practice—and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 500,000 girls are at risk in the U.S. alone. Unfortunately, the United States is not among those nations that have outlawed FGM. Yore says this is why state laws criminalizing FGM remain an urgent priority.
Elizabeth Yore has spent 30 years in legal child advocacy. Prior to her work at EndFGMToday.com, she served as special counsel at Harpo, Inc., as Oprah Winfrey’s child advocate. She was also general counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for eight years, as well as general counsel at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.