Articles on Shifting Sands
Crimestoppers’ FGM Snitchers’ Campaign
In June, the charity CrimeStoppers issued a briefing advertising that it would run a targeted FGM social media campaign and community engagement work to encourage confidence in using CrimeStoppers’ (CS’) anonymous reporting service in relation to those carrying out the practice. That material is not available online.
The campaign is based on the premise that FGM is being performed in the UK by ‘doctors’ not endorsed by the NHS, so are performing it illegally. It wants people ‘in the know’ to contact them anonymously and confidentially and to answer questions such as:
– Who are the cutters?
– Who is facilitating / aiding / abetting offences?
– When are the girls going?
– Where are the girls going?
– At what age are they being cut?
– Which travel routes are being used / hubs in and out of UK by cutters?
– Where are girls coming from to be cut in the UK?
The briefing was directed at Community / Charity Partners and an online event headlined “Happy Not Hurt” was advertised for June 24, promoting “it is clear FGM is happening to girls and women who live in the UK but the police are lacking intelligence to prevent this crime from occurring.”
Areas suitable to conducting the activity were identified “with support from the Metropolitan Bedfordshire, South Wales, Sussex and Hampshire police forces. And a working group of campaigners and expert representatives from 28 Too Many, The Royal College of Midwives, NHS, as well as Bal Howard and Leyla Hussein OBE advised and ensured campaign messaging was fit for purpose.”
I learnt of the briefing too late to attend so contacted the Project Lead / Chief of Staff afterwards to raise my concerns about the data CS were basing the campaign on, the lack of independence of their advisors and the need for the campaign in general.
The basis for the campaign
CS’ briefing said “Between April 2015 and March 2020 the FGM Enhanced Dataset by NHS Digital identified 24,420 women and girls as having had FGM. It is clear FGM is happening to girls and women who live in the UK but the police are lacking intelligence to prevent this crime from occurring.” The campaign’s aim was “to gather intelligence on this under reported crime, to allow police to investigate these crimes and protect those at risk.”
“I’ve just learnt of your proposed FGM campaign and want to raise concerns in regard to it with you.
The blurb says “It is clear FGM is happening to girls and women who live in the UK but the police are lacking intelligence to prevent this crime from occurring.” I’m wondering on what basis you are making the first part of that statement?
It can’t be based solely on NHS Digital’s data, because it has been clear from the outset that the NHS has never been able to demonstrate that FGM is happening in England. ‘Newly recorded’ I hope you realise does not mean that FGM was undertaken here – just that the girl/woman was seen for the first time in the NHS since that particular data collection began in 2015.
Neither is there evidence of a ‘cutting season’ where girls are allegedly taken overseas to undergo the practice.
Maybe you are basing the need for the campaign on other evidence, and if so I’d be interested in learning what it is please?
I have been blogging about this topic for some time and it’s clear that genital piercings (in pregnant, caucasian teens) are what’s being reported as FGM.
Within that piece I cite research, published in the BMJ, which concluded “There were low numbers of children presenting with FGM and in the 2 years there was only one prosecution. The findings may be consistent with attitude changes in FGM practising communities and those at risk should be protected and supported by culturally competent national policies.”
The only beneficiaries of the FGM campaigns appear to be what I term the ‘FGM industry’ some of whom appear to have ‘advised’ you. Its response has been disproportionate but the damage caused by it, considerable.
This piece Perils of a cause célèbre might also help illustrate what I mean and help put the topic and campaigns about the practice into perspective.
You should also consider Bristol University’s 2019 research report which illustrates how FGM safeguarding policies and interventions exposed families to intrusive and traumatic questioning leaving them feeling criminalised and stigmatised. Midwives and doctors were reported to repeatedly quizz women about FGM instead of concentrating on their children’s welfare.
Similar findings were confirmed this year by the University of Huddersfield. Their report illustrated the distress and mistrust that FGM safeguarding measures generate within African diaspora communities in Bristol, and potentially across the country.
I’m sure the last thing you want is for your campaign to create more problems for targeted communities so I hope you will reconsider the need for it.
And instead take the opportunity to congratulate communities for their ongoing work in helping to end the practice.
I look forward to your response.”
The response said:
“Many thanks for taking the time to get in touch and share your views on the prevalence of FGM in the UK. I certainly agree that the data that exists is incomplete, and following your email, and from a couple of others who have raised similar questions, we will be noting that in our online literature.
We feel, however, that a lack of formal evidence does not mean that there is no FGM being committed in, or facilitated through the UK. We have heard from a wide range of stakeholders to inform our work, including health professionals, police, government and charities who support us. Our intention is to hopefully gather some useful intelligence. This could provide some valuable evidence of both prevalence, and lead to safeguarding and criminal proceedings as appropriate.
This is a limited pilot in a few areas and supported locally by relevant community organisations. When we evaluate this work we will include your information in our considerations.”
The concession made in response to my and others’ concerns is in italics below.
“Between April 2015 and March 2020, the Female Genital Mutilation Enhanced Dataset by NHS Digital identified 24,420 women and girls as having had FGM. Whilst evidence is incomplete, most professionals agree that FGM, a form of child abuse, is happening to girls and women who live in the UK.”
The campaign is now live and the pilot will run from 5 -18 July 2021. The target audience is men and teens within practising communities.
They were chosen because CS’ believe that FGM is not just a woman’s problem and because the working group told them that FGM is done for men by other woman. And because ‘men also hold the power and the purse in these communities and therefore fund this crime’. By educating them on the realities of the physical and criminal outcomes of this crime CS’ hopes to sway them into giving anonymous information on others who are committing the criminal act. In other words to snitch – to inform and betray.
Teenagers within/near ‘practicing communities’ are also being targeted, based on research Exploring young people’s interpretations of female genital mutilation in the UK . ‘The findings made it clear young people are aware of the practice and are unclear on the realities of the physical and criminal outcomes of FGM.’ And teenagers ‘would potentially be warm to giving information to help save a friend from harm’.
Community activity will include CS’ regional managers already linked in with community groups who will share CS’ materials through their networks and venues. Schools will also be approached to share materials and to talk with students.
Community / Charity Partners support
“CS’ knows that many people have personal reasons for not wanting to talk to the police directly about these kind of issues. Speaking out can be very hard; fear of family backlash mistrust of the police, unsure of what they know… these and others may all be factors. But CS’ believes their promise of anonymity and being an independent charity allows people to speak up when they might otherwise stay silent.
“And you can help us in your community. You and your teams will talk to a wide range of people every day. When there is an opportunity to introduce the anonymity Crimestoppers offer please do so. We have specific materials about FGM for you to share and perhaps use as a conversation starter. But remember we take information about any crime – so what starts as a conversation about one thing could lead elsewhere.”
You could also amplify our messages online – sharing Crimestoppers’ social media posts for instance. A fuller briefing with details of all the materials available will be available at the end of June.”
I look forward to seeing the pilot’s evaluation in August as well as the inclusion of my and others’ concerns and information in CS’ considerations, which will, I hope, be made public.
About the Author - Bríd Hehir
Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a nurse and midwife in Africa where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.