FGM Safeguarding Approach ‘Traumatic’ for Bristol Somalis
Somali families feel “stigmatised” by female genital mutilation (FGM) safeguarding practices, a university report has found.
Those who took part in the Bristol study cited “intrusive and traumatic” questioning around FGM by school staff, social workers, health practitioners and police.
Community leaders are now calling for an end to a “fixation” on FGM.
Bristol’s safeguarding children board said it had reviewed its practices.
The board “introduced new ways of working with families” following the collapse of the trial of a man accused of letting his daughter undergo FGM.
Report author Dr Saffron Karlsen, from the University of Bristol, said that case had “galvanised a sense of injustice among the community”.
Dr Karlsen said one of the issues raised by the 30 Somali parents and young adults interviewed was how midwives and doctors quizzed women about FGM repeatedly, instead of concentrating on their child’s welfare.
She said: “This risks re-traumatising women who have been cut by forcing them to relive these distressing experiences over and over again.
“Concern for the often unborn child is at times overriding concerns about FGM victims in adulthood.”
Hibo Mahamoud, from Somali Parents Against Stigma (SPAS), said there was a “fixation” on FGM and called for a culture change.
The mother-of-three, who helped form SPAS after the collapsed trial, said: “When we take our children on holiday, even if it’s not to Somalia, we have to sign declaration forms saying they won’t have FGM.
“If we go to the doctors with a sick child, all they talk about is ‘have we had FGM, are we planning it for our children?’.
“We are already seeing changes in school settings but there has not been much change in some areas of the health service.”
Saed Ali, from the Bristol Somali Community Association, said the issue affected thousands of Somalis in the city, many of who felt their human rights had been compromised.
He said: “We felt relief at the outcome of this report as it verifies the magnitude and how people have been treated as ‘sub-human’.”
Sally Lewis, independent chair of the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board, said: “Where children and families are at risk of harm we will act but we will do so in an inclusive fashion.”
Ch Supt Will White, of Avon and Somerset Police, said the force now only sent uniformed officers where a child was deemed to be at immediate risk of FGM.
“We know FGM is a very complex issue to tackle and we’d welcome the involvement of the wider community in helping to further shape our safeguarding approach to this important issue,” he said.
“There will be cases where agencies have genuine concerns relating to a child or children.
“In these cases we won’t hesitate to use the legislative or safeguarding powers available to us to protect them from harm.”