Detroit emergency room physician Jumana Nagarwala has been charged with female genital mutilation and transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity in relation to allegations that she performed the surgery on two seven-year-olds.
The Detroit News reported that the case is believed to be the first of its kind brought under federal law:
“According to the complaint, despite her oath to care for her patients, Dr. Nagarwala is alleged to have performed horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said in a statement. “The Department of Justice is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country, and will use the full power of the law to ensure that no girls suffer such physical and emotional abuse.”
Procedures falling under the umbrella of female genital mutilation were made illegal under federal law in 1996. United States Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 7, § 116 unilaterally prohibits the procedure unless the procedures associated with FGM are considered medically necessary under extremely rare circumstances:
… whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
Although court papers did not list Nagarwala’s employer, the paper matched the defendant with an employee of Henry Ford Health Services. A representative for that facility confirmed that Nagarwala had been placed on leave, and denied that any such procedures occurred at any of their locations:
A Henry Ford spokesman confirmed that Nagarwala works for the hospital system and said she has been put on administrative leave.
“The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility,” health system spokesman David Olejarz said Thursday. “We would never support or condone anything related to this practice.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch addressed the decision to prosecute:
Female genital mutilation constitutes a particularly brutal form of violence against women and girls. It is also a serious federal felony in the United States. The practice has no place in modern society and those who perform FGM on minors will be held accountable under federal law.
The case reportedly involved two girls whose parents traveled from Minnesota to Michigan to have the procedure performed on their daughters. An unsealed complaint indicated that additional children may have been subjected to the procedure as far back as 2005:
[A]ccording to the complaint unsealed today in U.S. District Court in Detroit, the case involves two Minnesota girls and their parents who came to metro Detroit for what was portrayed as a “special girls trip. They stayed at a hotel in Farmington Hills and ended up visiting Nagarwala, thinking they were seeing the doctor because their “tummies hurt.” Instead, the complaint said, the girls had their genitalia altered or removed.
One of the victims said “her parents told her that the procedure is a secret and that she is not supposed to talk about it,” FBI agent Kevin Swanson wrote in his affidavit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
According to the affidavit, the FBI’s investigation has identified several other children who may have been victimized by Nagarwala between 2005 and 2007, including children in Detroit. On April 10, authorities interviewed several young girls in Michigan about genital mutilation and multiple girls said that they had the procedure performed on them by Nagarwala, the affidavit said. Authorities also interviewed some of those girls’ parents, who either denied knowing of the genital mutilation procedure or said that it didn’t happen.
Child Protective Services in Minnesota interviewed the parents of the two girls, but it is unclear whether they took any action.