A Detroit emergency room doctor is believed to be the first person in the US charged in a case of illegal female genital mutilation.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville, Michigan, was charged Thursday and is accused of performing the procedure on multiple children, the US Department of Justice said.
She allegedly performed the procedure on girls between the ages of six and eight years old over the course of multiple years, and potentially since 2005. She was scheduled to appear in court Thursday afternoon.
If found guilty, FGM carries a five-year felony. Nagarwala was also charged with transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, which carries a 10-year felony, according to a complaint unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court.
“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 Blanco said in a statement.
The complaint alleged that the parents of two victims were aware that the procedure was performed on their children. Others maintained that they did not know.
According to the World Health Organization, FGM is a practice that affects around 200 million women and girls among certain Christian and Muslim communities worldwide, including in the US. It is performed for a variety of reasons depending on the community, including preparing girls for marriage or because it is believed to decrease their lust and sexual pleasure.
It is often performed on children under the age of 15 and can cause severe bleeding, cysts, infections, complications in childbirth, increased risk of newborn deaths, and the permanent loss of sexual pleasure.
A report conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 found that around 513,000 women and girls in the US were at risk of undergoing FGM, usually as minors.
The Henry Ford Health System — which has locations in Detroit and West Bloomfield Township — confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Nargarwala was a doctor with the hospital system and said she has been put on administrative leave.
In a statement sent to BuzzFeed News a spokesperson for the hospital system said they were "shocked by the allegations."
"The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility," the statement read. "We would never support or condone anything related to this practice."
The FBI had launched an investigation into Nagarwala in or before February after receiving a tip that she performed FGM on 7-year-old girls at a Livonia medical clinic in Michigan, which she did not seem to work at, the complaint alleges. It is unclear how she gained access to the clinic, but bringing the girls to it warranted a charge of "transportation with intent" to perform sexual acts, the complaint states.
The FBI interviewed multiple parents and their children, some of whom described recently undergoing the procedure and identified a picture of Nagarwala.
Investigators have identified other children who may have undergone the procedure by Nagarwala's hand between 2005 and 2007, including children in Michigan, the Detroit News reported.
Nagarwala spoke voluntarily with investigators and denied performing FGM on minors, according to the complaint.
Female genital mutilation is not practiced by the members of the Jewish faith. A previous version of this article said that the practice impacts Jewish women.
Ema O'Connor is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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