Reporting Female Genital Mutilation
Reporting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is now a legal requirement. Whether you are a doctor, nurse, midwife or teacher the onus is now on reporting female genital mutilation (FGM) to the police.
Female genital mutilation is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as procedures that include the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. The most severe form invovles the genitals being cut and stitched closed until the victim is ready to have a baby. After baby is born they sewn back up again. Proponents believe this keeps women and girls “hygienic, chaste and faithful”. It is practised in 29 countries in Africa and some countries in Asia and the Middle East
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 and figures suggest that some 137,000 women are at risk in the UK. It is illegal in the UK to subject a girl or woman to FGM, or to assist a non-UK person in carrying out FGM overseas.
If FGM is carried out here in the UK the woman can sue for compensation. Cases are rare.
So what is a professional healthcare worker or teacher to do about Reporting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)? If FGM is discovered it should be reported promptly. If a teacher suspects it is likely to happen or that it has already been carried out, they have a duty to report. Ideally any report must be made by the end of the next working day.
Guidance has been drawn up by the NHS, the Department of Health and the Royal Colleges to help staff understand the new rules on Reporting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). For the NHS Guidance for professionals click here
If you fail to report it can lead to disciplinary measures and could lead to being barred from working.
Mandatory reporting is not currently a legal requirement in Scotland but some politicians have been pushing ministers to follow the UK government’s lead.
Where FGM is identified in NHS patients, it is now mandatory to record this in the patient’s health record and make a record of any discussion or action taken. Since September 2014, all acute trusts are required to provide a monthly report to the Department of Health on the number of patients who have had FGM or who have a family history of FGM. This information will be anonymous and no personal confidential data will be shared as a result of the information collection.
There are specialist FGM clinics if it has already taken place. If you refer a patient to social services or the police, then this should also be recorded. If a person is at risk it must be shared with the GP and health visitor, as part of safeguarding actions.
The Department of Health has published FGM: multi-agency practice guidelines (PDF, 1.63MB), which include general information about FGM and the best practice to follow in all cases.
Talking to Women About Reporting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
How do you go about talking about this issue. It is a very sensitive issue. The patients trust must be gained. It will be difficult for women to talk about the issue. There may be a language barrier in which case an interpreter may be required. Be aware of the terms used and understand what terms are used in the country of origin. Read the following important factors highlighted in the FGM: multi-agency practice guidelines (PDF, 1.63MB) are the following:
- Women and girls may prefer to speak to a professional of the same gender.
- They may not want to be seen by a professional from their own community.
- Alerting the girl’s or woman’s family to the fact that she is disclosing information about FGM may place her at risk of harm.
- Develop a safety and support plan in case they are seen by someone “hostile” at or near the department, venue or meeting place – e.g. prepare another reason why they are there.
- If they insist on being accompanied during the interview – e.g. by a teacher or advocate – ensure that the accompanying person understands the full implications of confidentiality, especially with regard to the person’s family.
- Do not assume that families from practising communities will want their girls and women to undergo FGM
If you are a victim of FGM in the UK then feel free to get in touch. We offer a private and confidential service. You will not be charged for seeking advice.