Legislature should keep anti-FGM legislation on fast-track

Published 5:22 pm Monday, January 20, 2020


The Advocate-Messenger

A bill that would outlaw female genital mutilation in Kentucky is moving forward speedily during this year’s legislative session. We hope it continues on the fast track and becomes law as quickly as possible.

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Female genital mutilation (FGM) had been illegal nationwide until a Supreme Court ruling declared the ban unconstitutional in 2018, leaving it up to individual states to ban the abhorrent practice. Thirty-five states have outlawed FGM, but Kentucky is one of 15 where it’s still legal. Every state bordering Kentucky except Indiana has passed some level of anti-FGM legislation.

Until that changes, the Bluegrass State will unfortunately be seen by those who want to mutilate a small child as somewhere “safe” to conduct such abuse.

FGM is an umbrella term for several different ways that some people cut off or modify small girls’ genitalia. FGM can lead to lifelong physical and health problems, as well as mental trauma. FGM can make it extremely hard for a victim to ever lead a normal life outside of the community that allowed them to be abused.

It’s hard for many to believe that FGM happens or that it occurs with any frequency. But in 2016, there were more than half a million girls in the U.S. who were either victims of FGM or at-risk to be victimized, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The AHA Foundation, which fights against FGM and forced marriages, among other things, estimates there are 1,845 girls at risk of FGM in Kentucky alone.

“This is a form of child abuse that is used to control the sexuality of women and girls,” testified Amanda Parker with the AHA Foundation, when Senate Bill 72 was considered in committee earlier this month. “It predates all major religions and is not mandated by any major religion. It is something that has been co-opted by patriarchal societies and religious sects.”

SB 72 can’t change the minds of those who hold such corrupt beliefs, but it can make it much harder for them to follow through on those corrupt beliefs with despicable actions. Its passage could also help wake up those who may be living in families that allow FGM and aren’t aware it isn’t normal or OK.

SB 72 would define FGM as child abuse and require anyone who knows or suspects a girl may be a victim of FGM to “immediately make an oral or written report to the appropriate authorities.”

FGM would become a Class B felony, which is punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison. FGM victims would gain the ability to file lawsuits against those who abused them. And the Department for Public Health would create and disseminate educational materials about FGM.

These are all changes that should have been made years ago. Similar legislation was introduced in 2018 but never made it out of committee.

Lawmakers may have failed to see how urgently change was needed to address this problem; or, they may have failed to educate themselves on the issue; or, perhaps they were simply uncomfortable addressing a sensitive topic, so they avoided it. Whatever the reasons were two years ago, legislators this year seem to be well-informed, unafraid of doing what’s right and ready to make things better for thousands of girls who can’t protect themselves from abuse.

SB 72 has been given two readings in the Senate and it should soon head to the House for consideration. If passed there, Gov. Andy Beshear’s signature would be the last step required to outlaw FGM permanently in Kentucky. Lawmakers should progress through those steps as quickly as possible.