16 Days of Activism - Female Genital Mutilation is simultaneously a local and global issue
By Inspector Allen Davis, Metropolitan Police Service Operational Lead for Harmful Practices on 07 December 2021 Midwives MSWs - Maternity Support Workers FGM - Female Genital Mutilation Wellbeing Of Women
As the Met Police’s operational lead for female genital mutilation (FGM) and other Harmful Practices. I’ve been in this role since 2015 and a police officer for over 25 years. The benefit of having both a fair bit of service as well as experience in dealing with such complex issues, is that it gives you the confidence to tell things straight. This is important as FGM isn’t going away anytime soon.
Sadly, COVID has increased the risks of FGM occurring internationally. Those with pro-FGM views potentially see the COVID crisis as ‘a good time’ to subject girls to FGM. Due to pandemic-related disruptions in prevention programmes, two million FGM cases could occur over the next decade that would otherwise have been averted (UNFPA June 2020).
No one agency can deal with this in isolation. Education, Social Care, Health, Police, Border Force and the Crown Prosecution Service all have an important part to play. We need to focus on the FGM cutters both here and abroad
FGM is an incredibly complex issue. The ‘How, Where and When’ it takes place will differ from community to community. So geography matters, we need to know at a more granular level i.e., region, ethnic group, tribe and clan where (potential) victims are from.
FGM is simultaneously a local and global issue. Pressure from families in countries of origin to have girls cut is often extreme. International collaboration is important, and we should not lose sight of the fact we’re world leaders in responding to this issue.
The ’Why’ it takes place is fundamental to developing an effective response.
FGM is often a social norm or 'socially upheld behavioural rule'. This means that everyone does it, or people believe that everyone does it. Individuals practice it because they have never questioned behaving otherwise, they receive social benefits from conforming to the norm, or they fear social sanctions from others for deviating from the norm. As such, focusing on the ‘health harms’ of FGM alone will not bring about the rejection of such an embedded practice.
FGM is fundamentally a ‘complex form of social control of women’s sexual and reproductive rights’, and a form of Honour Based Abuse (HBA), with the practice so often rooted in ‘patriarchal’ views.
It is important to remember that FGM does not happen in isolation from other Harmful Practices. There can often be links to Forced Marriage, HBA and Abuse Linked to Witchcraft and Spirit Possession.
Knowledge is power
We need to encourage professionals to normalise conversations about FGM, as we can’t allow FGM to remain a taboo subject. Identifying potential risk of FGM is key to safeguarding girls and their siblings.
Sharing information on FGM risk is vital as it precipitates a multi-agency response that allows the incredibly high risk to be managed. Mandatory Reporting of FGM is one means by which information can be shared. This is for cases where a regulated professional has visibly seen FGM or had a direct disclosure from a girl under 18. Disclosures of potential risk are equally important and need to go via existing referral processes.
The data we have on FGM does not in any way reflect the scale of FGM risks or prevalence in the UK. Barriers to reporting and sharing information means this is still a ‘hidden issue’. FGM Protection Orders are civil remedies obtained in the Family Court. They’re open for anyone to apply for and the conditions sought are bespoke to victims in the case. They are preventative in nature and can bring about behaviour change.
Inspector Allen Davis is the Metropolitan Police Service’s operational lead for Harmful Practices (FGM, Forced Marriage, HBA and Abuse Linked to Witchcraft and Spirit Possession) and works at both a National and International level on these issues. He is Deputy Chair of the National Working Group on Abuse Linked to Witchcraft and Spirit Possession and is national lead for Operation Limelight; a multi-agency safeguarding operation that focuses on Harmful Practices at the UK border. Allen is also co-Chair of the London Chemsex Working Group and established Project Sagamore, the multi-agency strategic response to crime related risk, harm and vulnerability within the Chemsex context. He also leads the MPS operational response to Sex Work.
Intelligence on who is involved and where FGM is taking place can be shared anonymously with Crimestoppers.