Channel 4’s latest hard-hitting documentary explores the shocking practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in England.
The documentary, which was filmed over two years and is presented by Cathy Newman, follows DCI Leanne Pook at the Avon and Somerset Police as they raise awareness of the illegal practice.
Over 200 million: the UN estimate of the number of females subjected to FGM worldwide
FGM is a taboo subject whose harsh realities the public has little knowledge of; The FGM Detectives works to change this. FGM involves cutting, injuring or changing a woman’s external genitalia without medical reason. The documentary explores how there have been no successful prosecutions in the UK despite its illegality since 1985 as FGM is a hidden form of child abuse, with many girls scared to report their parents for the practice.
UN estimates suggest that over 200 million girls and women have experienced FGM globally, and 20,000 girls in the UK are at risk, with around 10% of these living in Bristol, the city that the documentary focuses on. Shockingly, most of the girls are pre-pubescent because the tradition of FGM marks them as ready for marriage and consequently they are removed from school.
“Pain relief and anaesthetics usually aren’t used”
The documentary interviews campaigners who describe how they oppose FGM particularly because of its long-term impacts on sex, childbirth and mental health. In addition, pain relief and anaesthetics usually aren’t used, making it a traumatic experience for the young girls affected by it, who may consequently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
FGM is predominantly practised in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and many girls in the UK are taken abroad by their families for the procedure to countries such as Mali and Sierra Leone, where the practice is still legal. It is carried out for cultural, social and religious reasons despite no religious texts condoning it.
137, 000: the estimated number of women affected by FGM in the UK
The documentary brings to light much of the current legal debate surrounding FGM, including whether the lower level “type four” cuts should be legalised due to their importance as a cultural practice. Campaigners, however, argue that “type four” injures, which include pricking, incising and cauterisation, still amount to mutilation, as they are harmful procedures for non-medical purposes.
The documentary also focuses on DCI Pook’s investigation into 29-year-old Somalian taxi driver who allegedly allowed his six-year-old daughter to undergo FGM. Ultimately the child cruelty case at Bristol Crown Court was dismissed by the judge for having “inconclusive” evidence as the photographs of her injuries were “too blurry.” This decision has made newspaper headlines following the documentary’s broadcast, with viewers shocked that the case was dismissed by the judge so quickly.
“Many girls in the UK are taken abroad by their families for the procedure”
The documentary deals with victims of FGM sensitively whilst educating the viewer about the prevalence of the illegal practice. Ultimately this is a compelling viewing which forces us to contemplate just how such appalling practices can be carried out in our supposedly developed country.
For help and advice related to this topic, please contact the charity Integrate UK which campaigns against FGM.
See below for an earlier Channel 4 report on the practise from 2016, featuring an interview with Detective Pook.
Last modified: 8th June 2020