Articles on Shifting Sands
Police blame professionals for few FGM referrals
That FGM is still being carried out in the UK falsely informed most presenters’ outlook at the recent FGM 2018 Conference, that of the the police in particular.
Inspector Allen Davis, representing the Metropolitan Police Service patently thought professionals naive in accepting peoples claims that they didn’t practice FGM any longer. He believed they were merely demonstrating ‘false compliance’, and was certain it was continuing, and to ever younger girls. And was possibly linked to other harmful practices.
So he wanted professionals who decided NFA (no further action) was necessary, to become more professionally curious, to break the cycle of under-reporting and referral. They needed to share more information because the police relied on actionable intelligence to prosecute and convict.
Davis thought difficulties in securing a conviction included pressure from the community on the family involved, and the challenge of securing an admission of guilt. “Community ties can be thicker than blood, so it is vital we are in those communities having conversations with them so we can end the practice.”
The fall out from the recent Bristol FGM trial which reflected badly on the work of all involved, particularly that of the Avon & Somerset police, was probably fresh in his mind as he wearily asserted this. There, a Bristol father accused of allowing his six-year-old daughter to undergo FGM was found not guilty of child cruelty. Judge Julian Lambert threw out the case, describing it as “deeply troubling” and dismissing the evidence as “wholly inconclusive”.
While Davis admitted there were challenges to securing convictions, he was also clear that arrests and prosecutions alone would not end the problem. Although they acted as a deterrent, he saw them predominantly as symbolic. And acknowledged the police were never going to arrest their way out of this problem.
He was clear that more preventative work within affected communities was necessary in order to end the practice. That was no doubt music to the ears of those involved in what is a competitive FGM industry. Their survival depends hugely on a variety of awareness raising, educational and outreach initiatives.
The National FGM Centre’s Leethen Bartholomew, agreed with Inspector Davis. He believe that in order to win hearts and minds within communities where FGM continues to be practised, activists need to be at their centre. Midwife Juliet Albert, described the importance of using trusted Health Advisors from communities as bridges, and cited her use of them in her specialist role.
Educational work with girls and their families, raising awareness in schools and training professionals like social workers and teachers how to spot the signs of girls at risk of FGM was reported a vital part of the FGM Centre’s work. But all activists needed to extend their role to engage and involve men.
It was interesting to note how few FGM lead activists attended this event. Even Hoda Ali, who leads a project safeguarding children against FGM at Perivale Primary School, London and who was billed to speak, had sent apologies. Perhaps their behind the scenes spats are beginning to surface and making themselves manifest?
Another piece about the 2018 FGM Conference The FGM Industry’s abuse of children must end. FULL STOP! can be accessed here.
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.