On June 15th, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) participated with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to support Operation Limelight USA at Dulles International Airport. Operation Limelight USA is an outreach program piloted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center. The program is meant to raise awareness of the federal law banning the practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) and to coordinate prevention efforts though training, outreach, education and enforcement.
OVW Principal Deputy Director Katharine (Katie) Sullivan observed outreach efforts at Dulles International Airport alongside HSI and FBI special agents who have completed FGM/C-related training, working to engage with travelers regarding sending children outside of the United States for the purpose of FGM/C. Agents spoke to passengers flying to or from high-risk countries, educating passengers on health risks and legal penalties, including that it is a federal crime to take a girl out of the United States for FGM/C while offering informational brochures. These discussions provide passengers with a means to refer cases or receive victim assistance.
“Female genital mutilation along with other brutal forms of violence against women and girls has no place in modern society and must be stopped,” said OVW Principal Deputy Director Sullivan. “I commend HSI for bringing awareness to this illegal practice and important issue.”
FGM/C refers to cutting and other procedures that injure the female genital organs for non-medical reasons and can cause severe and long-lasting damage to physical and emotional health. Over 200 million girls and women have undergone this form of mutilation, with victims ranging predominately from ages five to 18. While primarily concentrated in north, west, and central Africa, as well as parts of the Middle East and Asia, FGM/C also occurs in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that approximately 500,000 women and girls in the United States either are victims of FGM/C, or are at risk of being subjected to it.
Removing or cutting the genital organs of a female child is a federal crime regardless of whether it is done inside the United States or the child is transported outside the country for that purpose. In April 2017, an HSI and FBI joint investigation led to the arrest of a Detroit emergency room physician who was charged with performing FGM/C on girls who were approximately six to eight years of age. This case, which is being prosecuted by the Department of Justice, is the first prosecution in the United States for a violation of 18 U.S.C. §116, which criminalizes FGM/C.
Operation Limelight USA helps law enforcement identify potential victims and perpetrators of FGM/C and educates passengers traveling to countries with high rates of FGM/C to provide information and resources. HSI is in a unique position to engage with the traveling public at U.S. borders and ports of entry, where the local enforcement operations focus on the prevention of “vacation cutting,” or sending children out of the United States for the purpose of FGM/C.
FGM/C is a serious human rights abuse, gender-specific, violence and, when done to children, a serious form of child abuse. FGM/C provides no health benefits and can cause lifelong consequences including chronic infection, severe complications during childbirth, mental health problems, and death. OVW is committed to increasing awareness of FGM/C and supporting action to reduce this severe form of gender-specific violence.
To learn more about female genital mutilation and its negative health effects, view this U.S. Government fact sheet. If you have information about possible perpetration of FGM/C or are concerned for the safety of a young person in your community, we encourage you to call the toll-free ICE tip line at (866) 347-2423, complete the ICE online tip form, or call 1-800-4-A-CHILD, a 24-hour hotline to report child abuse. Join OVW as we work to prevent all violence against women, including FGM/C.