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International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation - blog by Paul Griffiths

Following the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation held on 6th February, Paul Griffiths discusses the crucial need to raise awareness of this kind of vulnerability crime:

‘Vulnerability’ is a term and a concept that has gone through radical change in recent decades.  We talk about it more, we understand it in greater depth, and crucially, we now identify the vast and complex issues it can encompass.
It’s an area that is ever changing, however, we have a responsibility to monitor, adapt and respond to threats impacting on vulnerable people as we work within and as part of our diverse communities.
 For example, there are areas within the vulnerability sphere that remain hidden, dangerous and largely misunderstood. One such area I want to discuss is female genital mutilation, or ‘FGM’.
The World Health Organisation describes FGM as: 
“All procedures which involve the partial or total removal of the external genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”  
That is a very formal way of describing what is in effect, extreme child abuse.
Many people in the UK reading that description would perhaps understandably assume that this is the kind of crime that does not happen in the UK or perhaps even in Europe.  Before I fully understood the complex issues involved, I was probably guilty of such an assumption.
 Unbelievably, between 200 million girls and women worldwide have experienced FGM and 3 million girls are cut every year.
 Whilst FGM is most prevalent in Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, India and Pakistan, it is estimated that 60,000 girls are at risk in England and Wales and figures from 2014, showed that 137,000 women and girls in the UK had undergone FGM.
So why does this abuse happen?
FGM is a practice that is rooted in a number of cultures, founded on beliefs that it can control women’s sexuality, make them more likely to be chosen for marriage, it can be a rite of passage or even linked to hygiene and aesthetics. In fact, parents who subject their children to this abuse believe they are doing it in their best interests.
 I’ve been privileged to work with a number of colleagues over the years who are experts in this area, and who have helped educate colleagues across our Service in tackling this crime, which is fundamentally ingrained in cultures all over the world.  One such expert is DC Gill Squires from West Midlands Police, who explains the severe short and long-term impacts this kind of abuse can have: 
“Immediate implications FGM  can include severe pain & shock, urine retention, infection including tetanus and HIV, fracture or dislocation to limbs as a result of restraint during the procedure, and even death from haemorrhage.  A survivor’s experience of the long term health implications will vary, depending of the type of FGM they have had, but common complaints are chronic pain, urinary tract infections, pelvic infections, complications in pregnancy and fistula/incontinence. The psychological impact of having FGM affects most, regardless of the type of FGM they have”.
Now, as we grow in our understanding of this complex issue, it’s crucial that it becomes an area of vulnerability that we view with the same awareness and responsiveness as any other, and that we help our communities understand the signs that someone may be at risk.
 Gill continues “It is unlikely that a child will know that they are going to be cut, and the warning signs are commonly circumstantial, which makes it extremely difficult to detect. We should consider a risk that should be assessed, if a child’s mother has been cut, if the child is from a community that is known to practice FGM or if the child speaks about going on holiday for a celebration. In addition, we believe that cutters are living and operating here in the UK as well as abroad. We need to be alert to this, and encourage communities to come forward with information”.

 I’ve often spoken of ‘the vulnerability equation’ facing policing. This describes the resources the police have available to deal with the sheer scale of vulnerability issues and crimes. The impact and complexity within vulnerability is staggering, and with all the good intentions we clearly have, the police service alone cannot adequately respond to the millions of people affected.
Add to this the fact that new and emerging spheres of vulnerability will face us each year – we would never have predicted the widespread resources needed to tackle county lines 20 years ago for instance, or that a crime such as FGM could be commonplace in the UK - and the picture gets even more challenging.
There is no clear answer to this. But we owe it to every woman and girl vulnerable to this kind of abuse, and to everyone vulnerable to harm in any way, to work with our partners, to educate ourselves and each other, and to truly understand each part of the cultures in which we serve.