Women & Girls in the U.S. Are At Risk of Female Genital Mutilation

FGM is happening in our own backyard, threatening the health and lives of more than half a million Americans.

Every year, on February 6, Sanctuary joins thousands of advocates across the world to observe the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)—A form of gender-based violence endured by more than 200 million women and girls worldwide that involves the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights. It is a universal practice, not prescribed by any religious teachings, typically performed on girls from infancy through puberty. Victims of FGM often suffer from severe, long-lasting physical and psychological harm, and many have lost their lives to this form of violence.

Immediate complications and health risks associated with this practice can include severe pain, excessive bleeding, swelling of genital tissue, fever, infection, urinary problems, injury to surrounding genital tissue, shock, and death. Long-term consequences can include urinary, vaginal, and menstrual issues, painful genital scarring and keloids, decreased sexual pleasure, reduced sexual functioning, and increased risk of complications during childbirth, as well as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), among other psychological problems.

Prevalence of FGM in the United States

Due to the secretive nature of FGM and the lack of resources allocated to research of this practice, it is impossible to say for sure how many girls in the U.S. are at risk of female genital mutilation. Nonetheless, we know from experience that FGM is taking place in our own backyard, at alarming rates.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. have experienced or are currently at risk of undergoing this practice. This is more than three times higher than an earlier estimate based on 1990 data. Based on survivors’ testimony and research conducted by Sanctuary and other anti-FGM advocates, we believe that the incidence of FGM for women and girls in the United States may be even higher. Our data shows that FGM is being practiced in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, Washington, California, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Kentucky, Kansas, and Washington, D.C. It also suggests an even greater number of girls from the U.S. are taken abroad to be subjected to this violence, a practice known as “vacation cutting.” Today, however, there is no federal prohibition on this rampant violation of women’s rights in the United States.

FGM Legislation in the United States

Up until two years ago, the U.S. stood with Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and thirteen other countries in Western Europe in banning female genital mutilation. The practice was first banned by Congress in 1996 with the adoption of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (18 U.S.C. § 116). Because this federal ban fell short in addressing the issue of vacation cutting, Sanctuary and fellow advocates fought to protect American girls abroad and succeeded. In 2013, the act was amended to outlaw the transport of women and girls out of the U.S. for the purpose of FGM. But a more recent ruling struck down the federal ban as unconstitutional, leaving hundreds of thousands of girls in the U.S. at risk of female genital mutilation.

The first blow to the federal FGM prohibition came when the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan returned a decision in the matter United States v. Nagarwala. On November 20, 2018, Judge Friedman dropped most of the charges against the defendants, two doctors and four parents accused of mutilating the genitals of nine young girls. Five of the nine girls had been transported across state lines from Minnesota and Illinois (where state FGM prohibitions existed) to Michigan (where no state-level prohibition existed at the time). Prosecutors also estimated that Dr. Nagarwala and her accomplices may have cut as many as 100 girls.  Judge Friedman, however, declared in his ruling that the 1996 federal ban was unconstitutional:

“FGM is a ‘local criminal activity’ which, in keeping with longstanding tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress.” – Judge Bernard Friedman

In early 2019, the Department of Justice and the Solicitor General filed a notice of appeal against this tragic decision but later chose not to pursue it. Since then, the House of Representatives has attempted to defend the constitutionality of the ban after the executive branch declined to do so.  Unfortunately, on September 13, 2019, the Sixth Circuit granted the federal government’s motion to voluntarily dismiss its own appeal of the District Court’s decision– a ruling driven in part by the misguided belief that FGM cannot be a commercial activity and that the “market” for FGM was limited to the parents of the nine girls in this case.

TAKE ACTION

Now, we face the difficult situation of outlawing female genital mutilation on our own soil—again.  As the United States has done before, it must stand up, identify, and decry this form of gender-based violence. This practice is pervasive and cannot be eradicated based solely on state criminal laws. In addition to enacting new laws to deter U.S. families from practicing female genital mutilation, both at home and abroad, we must fight the misconceptions fueled by the profound lack of public awareness and research on the topic of FGM. Survivors from varying backgrounds—Christian, Muslim, American, West African, Indian, Pakistani, Egyptian—have courageously come forward to share their stories and advocate against the practice.  It is time we listen to them.

Special thanks to our partners at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP for supporting our research and anti-FGM advocacy efforts. 

Donate today and declare zero tolerance for FGM so that girls in 2020 and beyond can live free from violence.

Holiday Highlights 2019

Mark your calendars for #GivingTuesday on December 3rd!

Sanctuary for Families is proud to announce another extremely successful season of holiday giving programs! We received countless new toys, books, clothing, as well as thousands of dollars in cash and gift card donations!

We are so grateful to all who gave their time, energy, and resources as holiday helpers, Adopt-a-Family Program donors, and gift drive organizers and contributors. Thank you again for your generosity and thoughtfulness. These gifts provided much needed joy to our clients, and eased what can be a difficult transition into a new year.

Here are just a few wonderful things that happened over the holiday season:

1. 161 of our highest-needs families had their entire holiday wish lists fulfilled by incredibly generous donors—thank you for bringing joy to survivors of gender violence during this busy season.

2. Nearly 100 amazing volunteer who wrapped, sorted and organized gifts—We couldn’t have reached so many clients without you!

Macy’s

Capital One

First National Bank

3. Handing out thousands of additional games, toys, and gifts to over 1,200 adults and children who receive services at Sanctuary.

4. We gave out hundreds of gift cards – empowering our clients to buy presents for themselves and their loved ones.

5. The amazing and dedicated staff members who coordinated this massive movement of donations, gifts and parties.

 

Thank you to everyone who helped make the holidays a very special time for all of our clients! We could not have done this work without you!

Best,

Emily Lo Bue, Jessica Francois and Geneva Morales

Sanctuary for Families’ Volunteer and In-kind Donation Team

It’s #GivingTuesday! Create Your Facebook Fundraiser Today

Mark your calendars for #GivingTuesday on December 3rd!

On Tuesday, December 3, people from all around the world will join together to celebrate Giving Tuesday – a day of global charitable giving. We hope that you’ll choose to support Sanctuary’s life-saving work on this special day.

If you’d like to increase your impact, you can create a Facebook fundraiser to get your friends and family involved in our mission to end gender-based violence. It’s an easy and effective way to get the word out about our work.

Create my facebook fundraiser

 

Facebook is matching up to $100,000 for every non-profit in the US. You can make an incredible difference with just a few minutes’ work.

  1. Click the button above to create your own Facebook fundraiser today.
  2. Click ‘Select Nonprofit’ and search for Sanctuary for Families. You’ll know it’s us by our logo!
  3. Set your goal and tell your friends why you support us.
  4. Start sharing your fundraiser this evening and all through the end of the day tomorrow. Remember to thank your friends and family as they give

100% of donations made through Facebook go to the nonprofit organization; which means every dollar goes to our cause.

Sanctuary for Families is dedicated to the safety, healing, and self-determination of victims of domestic violence and related forms of gender violence. Through comprehensive services for our clients and their children, and through outreach, education, and advocacy, we strive to create a world in which freedom from gender violence is a basic human right.

5 Ways to Make a Difference This Giving Season

Mark your calendars for #GivingTuesday on December 3rd!

Every year, in the midst of the overwhelming holiday season, there is a day in which millions of people come together in the spirit of making a difference. Known as #GivingTuesday, this celebration of charitable giving harnesses the collective power of individuals and organizations to encourage philanthropy, celebrate generosity, and empower communities across the world.

This year’s Giving Tuesday falls on December 3, and we’re hoping that you’ll stand with survivors by giving to Sanctuary for Families. Last year, Sanctuary served over 10,000 adult and children survivors of domestic abuse, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender-based violence. Having your support will allow us to continue to provide life-changing services to thousands of families in New York City as they move from fear and abuse to safety and stability.

Here are five ways to support survivors this season:

1. Create a Facebook Fundraiser

Rally your friends and family to join our cause by starting your own #GivingTuesday fundraiser and TRIPLE your impact — Facebook is matching up to $100,000 in donations made to every non-profit in the US, plus all funds raised on Facebook in benefit of Sanctuary will be matched by one of our long-time supporters.

Make a difference with just a few minutes’ work — Click below:

CREATE MY FACEBOOK FUNDRAISER

Or, alternatively,

  1. Visit facebook.com/fund/SanctuaryforFamilies
  2. Click “Select Nonprofit” and search for Sanctuary for Families (you’ll know us from our leaf logo!)
  3. Set your fundraising goal and tell friends why you support us
  4. Start sharing your fundraiser and inviting others to join you in supporting our cause! Remember to thank your friends and family as they give (we’ll be doing so too).

You can also make a donation on Sanctuary’s Giving Tuesday Fundraiser. 100% of donations made through Facebook go to the nonprofit organization; which means every dollar you raise goes to our cause.

2. Support our Annual Appeal Campaign

At Sanctuary, we believe that in love there is no violence. Last year, through a range of comprehensive services, outreach and advocacy, we empowered over 10,000 survivors to rebuild their lives, educate our communities to prevent abuse, and champion policies locally, regionally and nationally that support survivors and their unique needs.

  Donate now 

Your year-end gift will offer survivors a chance at a life free from violence. Learn more about the impact you will have on the life of survivors like Ana:

 

3. Adopt a Family

Help us brighten the holidays for survivors of gender violence and their children by participating in our Adopt-a-Family program. This year, Sanctuary will once again share wish lists from families, with individuals and groups.

  SIGN UP 

All gifts must be mailed or delivered in-person to our lower Manhattan office by Friday, December 6th or earlier. Deliveries must be prearranged.

4. Organize a Holiday Drive

Every year, Sanctuary collects thousands of donated gifts and gift cards for the many clients we serve. Please consider asking your friends, family, or coworkers to participate in a holiday drive to collect gift cards or other items for adults, teens or children.

 

contact us to learn more

The deadline to deliver items collected through holiday drives is on or before Friday, December 6th.

5. Be a Holiday Helper

Sanctuary needs help sorting, organizing and wrapping the wonderful donations we receive. We will host Holiday Helpers Monday through Friday (10:30AM – 1:00PM and 2:00-4:30PM) from December 2nd through December 19th at our Lower Manhattan location.

contact us to learn more

Questions? Please contact us at info@sffny.org