Women and girls across the North East are among those affected by female genital mutilation (FGM).
This is the warning from a group of local charities, the CPS, police, and the three Police and Crime Commissioners in the region, all of whom have joined forces to highlight the brutal practice. The message comes ahead of the United Nations’ International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, marked on February 6.
FGM involves altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
The group are warning that FGM is happening throughout the country, and here in the North East charities such as the Middlesbrough-based Halo Project have dealt with 20 cases to date since 2015. However, due to significant under-reporting the number of victims is believed to be much higher.
Twenty FGM protection orders, which offer a legal means to protect and safeguard victims and potential victims of FGM, have also been issued in the region since 2015.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC said: “FGM is a serious crime that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years. It is an awful, most intimate mutilation capable of causing continuing physical pain, illness and grave, long-lasting psychological damage. Together, we will prosecute this and there is no cultural or any other justification which will stop that.
“There are many more FGM victims and women and girls at risk of FGM than statistics reflect. It is very hard for someone to report it personally but if they do they will be supported in every way. We need anyone who knows or is suspicious that this has, or is about to happen, to let the police know. Action taken will be with the full involvement of the victim. FGM is happening right here on our doorstep and so we as the North East community need to tackle it.”
Dame Vera’s comments are echoed by her counterpart in Durham, Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner Ron Hogg. He said: “We really don’t know enough about the scale of this problem in the North East. If anyone has any knowledge of FGM taking place, they should report it, to help ensure that other people do not suffer in the same way. Victims shouldn’t feel that they need to report to the police if they would prefer not to. HALO and the Angelou Centre provide a really supportive, confidential service to victims.”
The Halo Project, a charity that supports victims of FGM and honour based violence, has set up a university hub in Durham, in which student volunteers campaign to raise awareness of the issue.
Meanwhile, the Angelou Centre in Newcastle’s West End has trained hundreds of teachers, pupils and social work students in the region to spot the warning signs of FGM.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, Barry Coppinger, said: “The emotional, physical and psychological consequences of FGM are likely to impact on a victim their entire life. That’s why it is so important that victims realise they’re not alone and that there are agencies in the North East to provide them with the help and support they need.
“I commissioned The Halo Project to deliver confidential, specialist support for victims of FGM to reassure them that they do have a voice – even if they choose not to report to the police. FGM will not be tolerated in our society and I want to make it clear that where possible, prosecutions will be made and offenders will be brought to justice.”
Andrew Penhale, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS North East, said: “Female genital mutilation is a physically and emotionally damaging practice, and like all agencies involved we are determined to hold those responsible to account.
“Factors such as the age and vulnerability of FGM victims, who frequently do not want to report offences that could lead to them giving evidence against their family, make it extremely difficult to secure this evidence.“
“Where a case is referred to the CPS, and where there is sufficient evidence, it is likely to be in the public interest to bring a prosecution. We will also liaise with appropriate support agencies to ensure victims of FGM offences are adequately protected.”
Notes for editors:
Posted on Tuesday 6th February 2018