A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed sexual assault charges against Dr. Jumana Nagarwala in what some advocacy groups are calling a landmark female genital mutilation trial in Michigan.
According to the group, EndFGMToday, Judge Bernard Friedman's decision to drop the sexual assault count of the indictment against Dr. Nagarwala is a setback for those advocating for the millions of women and girls physically and emotionally scarred for life as a result of this barbaric practice.
In early 2017, Dr. Nagarwala, an Indian-American physician in Detroit, Michigan, became the first person charged under the United States law criminalizing female genital mutilation.
According to EndFGMToday, Nagarwala and her alleged conspirators are associated with the Muslim sect Dawoodi Bohra, which authorizes the horrific practice on their young daughters.
Nagarwala has been charged with conspiracy, genital mutilation, transporting minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, lying to a federal agent and obstructing an official proceeding. If convicted, she could face up to life in prison.
"We are very disappointed and troubled by the Court's dismissal of Count 6 of the indictment," attorney Elizabeth Yore, international child advocate and head of the EndFGMToday initiative, said in a press release.
"The Court, in its legalistic scrupulosity, argued that the government offered no convincing argument showing that the phrase 'sexual activity,' as used in the federal transportation of minors statute § 2423(a), is synonymous with the phrase 'sexual conduct,' as used in § 750.520b(1)(a)," she said.
"We are perplexed by the Court's mind-numbing analysis," Yore continued. "The victims, in this case, did not have their ears, nose or face mutilated, rather the defendants intentionally mutilated the genitals, the sexual organs of little girls, by penetrating them. The Court found that although FGM was a criminal act, it was not 'criminal sexual activity.' Because the transportation statute did not specifically define sexual activity, the court found that this statutory omission voided the charge."
"We do not agree with the Court's legalistic jujitsu, which, as a result, leaves young victims who are transported across state lines at great peril to this barbaric procedure," Yore explained. "We agree with the government's argument that the jury should be left to decide this important fact issue."
Congress passed the federal FGM law in 1996, yet it has taken 21 years for a federal prosecution.
"Why is that?" Yore asked. "The facts alleged in the prosecution's case demonstrate the secret underground network of FGM conspirators, who in the dark of night carry out their secret scheme to sexually assault unsuspecting little girls."
"This is what the underground FGM trafficking networks looks like and, frankly, why it is so difficult for the government to bring FGM prosecutions under the federal law," Yore said. "Like the mafia omertà, the code of silence among the community of FGM practitioners makes it extraordinarily difficult to save little girls from this hideous practice and to arrest and prosecute mutilators."
"This is exactly why the public—including teachers, pediatricians, and the child welfare community—must be aware and vigilant about this torturous practice," she continued. "The defense, by imposing a manufactured fact requirement of sexual gratification, attempted to obfuscate and rewrite the legislative history of criminal sexual assault."
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. are at risk for this brutal procedure. And the number of potential FGM victims is likely vastly unreported. Despite the fact that the World Health Organization and the United Nations declared FGM a violation of human rights, more than 200 million women and girls are subjected to this torture around the world.
Although the hideous practice has been outlawed under federal law since 1996, about half the states in the country are enacting their own laws. At least 59 countries around the world outlaw FGM, including the United States.