The Population Reference Bureau (PRB)’s estimate that over 500,000 women and girls in the U.S. are at risk for female genital mutilation (FGM), has been confirmed by an updated analysis issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
PRB’s analysis ranks Columbus as the 7th top metro area and Cleveland-Elyria as the 36th, where women and girls are potentially at risk for genital mutilation. Within state rankings, Ohio ranks 9th for FGM risk.
The 2016, CDC update notes a three-fold increase from earlier estimates in U.S. risk for FGM and a four-fold increase of risk for girls in the U.S. younger than 18 years old. The CDC’s data analysis showed that “the total number of women and girls in the United States at risk for FGM/C (cutting)*, or its consequences increased by 224%, from 168,000 to 545,000” and attributes the risk increases to immigration from countries where FGM is practiced:
The estimated increase was wholly a result of rapid growth in the number of immigrants from FGM/C-practicing countries living in the United States and not from increases in FGM/C prevalence in those countries.
The non-profit PRB is supported financially by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Scouts of the USA, the United States Agency for International Development and several other foundations. Tracking the CDC’s methodology by looking at FGM practicing countries and prevalence rates, PRB’s analysis also concludes that the U.S. FGM risk increase is driven by immigration patterns:
Just three sending countries—Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somalia—accounted for 55 percent of all U.S. women and girls at risk in 2013 (see Table 1). These three countries stand out because they have a combination of high FGM/C prevalence rates and a relatively large number of immigrants to the United States. The FGM/C prevalence rate for women and girls ages 15 to 49 is 91 percent in Egypt, 74 percent in Ethiopia, and 98 percent in Somalia. About 97 percent of U.S. women and girls at risk were from African countries, while just 3 percent were from Asia (Iraq and Yemen).
The latest U.S. census data shows that after the Minneapolis-St Paul-Bloomington area, Columbus, Ohio has the second largest Somali community in the country.
Refugee arrivals to Ohio since 1983, total approximately 62,650 including over 11,000 refugee arrivals from Somalia, the country noted by the PRB, the World Health Organization and UNICEF with one of the highest FGM prevalence rates in the world and where the most severe form of FGM is typically practiced.
The number of Somali refugee arrivals to Ohio do not account for secondary migrants who move to the state from their initial resettlement location.
While fewer than 20,000 refugees have been admitted so far in FY18, Ohio is the second highest receiving state with 1,301 refugees. President Trump is expected to announce the refugee admission cap for FY19 sometime this month before the fiscal year ends on September 30th.
Republican State Senators Lou Terhar (Dist.8) and Peggy Lehner (Dist.6) have introduced S.B.214, a bill to outlaw FGM in Ohio. The Senate Judiciary committee has held two hearings since the bill was filed in October 2017. The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Action Ohio Coalition for Battered Women testified in support of the bill.
Ohio State Senators Charleta B. Tavares (Dist.15) and Michael Skindell (Dist.23) are Democrats who respectively represent Columbus and Cleveland, metro areas both ranked by PRB where women and girls face an increased risk from FGM.
Last year the ACLU opposed efforts by legislators in Maine, a state which also has a sizable Somali population, to criminalize FGM. Maine’s Senate passed the bill unanimously but a coalition of Democrats, Independents and Green party representatives killed the bill in a narrow House vote.
*The Center for Disease Control includes the terms FGM, female circumcision and female genital excision, under the broader heading of “female genital cutting” which, “refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of female genitalia or other injury to female genital organs for any cultural, religious or otherwise nontherapeutic reasons.”
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Chris Alto is an investigative reporter at The Ohio Star.