House takes aim at female genital mutilation


Lansing — The Michigan House on Thursday approved bipartisan legislation that would create a new 15-year state felony for female genital mutilation, extend the statute of limitations for victims and revoke the medical license of doctors who perform the procedure.

The vote came a day after a federal prosecutor said 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 last month in a case involving two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota.

“Due to the secretive nature of this procedure, we may never know how many are actually affected by this brutal and inhumane act,” said sponsoring state Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton.

Female genital mutilation is already illegal at the federal level, punishable by up to five years in prison. The Metro Detroit case is the first of its kind in the nation, and Michigan legislators say the state needs its own tougher penalties to combat the practice and facilitate prosecution.

The House legislation would make 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 Senate unanimously approved similar felony legislation last month, but both packages will require sign-off from the opposite chamber in to reach the governor’s desk.

Female genital mutilation is a traditional practice in some cultures, but the bills make clear that a person could not cite custom, ritual or parental consent as a legal defense.

An estimated 513,000 women and girls in the United States are at risk or have already experienced female genital mutilation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Michigan is considered a hot spot because of its large immigrant populations from other countries where the practice is more prevalent.

The legislation “will send a message that this horrific action on young girls will not be tolerated in our state,” Hoitenga said.

The House package builds on the Senate version by adding new sanctions against doctors and protections for future victims.

The legislation would allow victims to seek criminal indictments up to 10 years after the crime or until they are 21 years old, whichever is later — extending the state’s six-year statute of limitation for many crimes. Victims could sue in civil court until they turned 28.

“A woman who underwent FGM as a child may not realize until later when she becomes sexually active or until she gives birth some of the pretty horrific health impacts,” said sponsoring Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit. “Some women actually have to get cut open again either to have sex or give birth.”

Under the House bills, doctors convicted of female genital mutilation would permanently lose their medical licenses. Surgical operations related to childbirth and labor would generally be exempted.

The Department of Health and Human Services would also be required to develop an educational outreach program for the public, including new immigrants, highlighting the health risks, emotional trauma and new criminal penalties for female genital mutilation.