U.S. Rep. Dave Trott is proposing to make female genital mutilation a 15-year crime nationwide, matching a tough new Michigan penalty signed into law earlier this month.
The Stopping Abusive Female Exploitation (SAFE) Act would increase the current federal punishment of up to five years in prison for mutilating the genitals of anyone under the age of 18.
The Birmingham Republican is introducing the bipartisan legislation Thursday with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York.
“The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 500,000 females in the United States have undergone or are at risk for genital mutilation and recently this staggering statistic hit home in Southeast Michigan,” Trott said in a statement.
He noted an ongoing Michigan case that is the first of its kind in the nation. Federal prosecutors say as many as 100 girls may have had their genitalia mutilated during a 12-year conspiracy involving three Metro Detroit doctors. The trio was charged in May in a case involving two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota.
The grand jury investigation of female genital mutilation has spread to at least three more states as federal agents have identified new targets in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, according to federal court records.
“These doctors, and all those who commit these horrendous crimes against innocent children, must be held accountable for their unconscionable actions,” Trott said. “We must protect our girls, and this legislation increasing the federal penalty is critical to eradicating this barbaric practice from our communities.”
The proposal would not directly affect the ongoing criminal case or potential penalties, but the Metro Detroit charges have spurred new attempts to combat what many experts say is a large problem that had largely been ignored.
Gov. Rick Snyder this month signed a suite of new Michigan laws making it a 15-year felony to knowingly circumcise, cut or stitch up the genitalia of a female under the age of 18. Transporting a person to another state for the procedure could also land a person in prison for up to 15 years.
The proposal had widespread and bipartisan support in the Michigan Legislature, but similar proposals have faced resistance in some other states. The Maine House recently rejected legislation that would have created a new state-specific crime statute, according to reports, opting instead to create an education and outreach program targeting immigrant communities.
Female genital mutilation is a traditional practice in some cultures. Michigan is considered a hot spot, and especially Metro Detroit, because of large immigrant populations from other countries where the practice is more prevalent.
New Michigan laws also extend the statute of limitations for victims and allow the state to permanently revoke the health care licenses of doctors or other medical professionals who perform the procedure.
Trott’s legislation urges states to have laws in place requiring health care professionals, teachers and other school employees to report any suspected incidents of female genital mutilation to law enforcement agencies.