Washington — The U.S. House on Tuesday unanimously approved a bipartisan bill sponsored by Michigan Rep. Dave Trott that would increase the maximum federal penalty for female genital mutilation from five years in prison to 15 years.
The vote was 409-0.
Trott, R-Birmingham, said he was moved to introduce the legislation this year after prosecutors filed charges in the nation’s first case involving two Michigan physicians who allegedly performed the procedure on two 7-year-old girls. The case arose in Trott’s Metro Detroit district.
“This person who claims to be a physician is a monster and has reportedly committed this heinous act hundreds of times,” Trott said on the House floor.
“We must make it clear to America and the rest of the world this practice will not be tolerated.”
The Stopping Abusive Female Exploitation (SAFE) Act applies to the cutting of genitals of girls and women younger than age 18, which has been a federal crime since 1996.
The congressman has noted that punishments for the procedure in the United States differed from other nations. In the United Kingdom, perpetrators face up to 14 years in prison.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated last year that roughly 513,000 women and girls in the United States have been cut or are “at risk” of being cut – either because of their age or because they or their family belongs to a group that practices general mutilation.
That figure was a threefold increase since the CDC’s earlier estimate, based on 1990 data.
“Stricter penalties for performing the procedure are critical to eradicating this horrific abuse,” New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney said on the floor.
“It is one thing when a woman champions a woman’s issue, but to have a like-minded man join you and lead you is a very special expression of leadership,” Maloney said.
Co-sponsors of the bill include U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden; and Christopher Smith, R-New Jersey.
Federal prosecutors said in April that two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota were cut at a Livonia clinic. Four girls from Michigan ages 8 to 12 were also cut, according to authorities.
In total, eight people have been charged in a case alleging a 12-year conspiracy that the government says involved cutting prepubescent girls as part of a procedure practiced by some members of a small Muslim sect from India, the Dawoodi Bohra.
Defense lawyers have argued that the procedure that the government says was performed on the girls was benign and not female genital mutilation. A trial is set for 2018 in federal court.
Some members of the Dawoodi Bohra community have said that genital mutilation is performed to suppress female sexuality, reduce sexual pleasure and curb promiscuity, according to court records.
Under federal law, violators may not use custom or ritual as a defense.
The World Health Organization and CDC say the procedure can lead to problems urinating, cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth, increased risk of death for both mother and infant in subsequent pregnancies and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Michigan in June increased the state penalty for the crime to up to 15 years in prison.
The state laws also extend the statute of limitations for victims and allow the state to permanently revoke the health care license of doctors or other medical professionals who perform the procedure.
Originally posted on The Detroit News: