Last Wednesday a doctor who had been charged with inflicting FGM (female genital mutilation) on a woman in the UK was found not guilty after a trial lasting two and a half weeks and jury deliberations that lasted only 30 minutes. The doctor was one Dhanuson Dharmasena and was charged after repairing a new mother’s previously ‘closed’ genitalia after childbirth, by re-stitching an incision he had made in her FGM scar tissue to enable her to give birth. A second man, who according to earlier reports is the woman’s husband, was cleared of aiding and abetting him.
The Guardian interviewed a female consultant obstetrician at Homerton hospital in east London, Dr Katrina Erskine, who called the equation of repairing FGM with FGM itself that led to this prosecution ludicrous and insulting to women who have undergone FGM:
It is also a diversion from what we should really be addressing, which is to try and find a way to reduce the incidence not just for girls born in the UK but worldwide.
It was very interesting that the prosecution got announced three days before the director of public prosecutions was called before the select committee.
I think they (the CPS) were responding to a lot of public pressure. I find myself wondering how far I should go to say that FGM is the slicing off on a conscious young girl with no anaesthetic of her clitoris and labia … This is a quibble about a couple of stitches and it is a complete distraction.
(Dr Erskine had spoken out against this prosecution as far back as March 2014, saying everyone was “up in arms” and that it would “put off midwives and doctors involved in caring for women with FGM”.)
The director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, defended the decision to prosecute on the grounds that the judge rejected three applications by the defence to dismiss the case. The FGM Act specifically excludes medically necessary actions taken after childbirth; Dr Dharmasena contended that his re-stitching was done to stem bleeding. But even if re-stitching was not technically medically necessary, surely many women who had been infibulated would consent to having their genitalia restored to how it was before childbirth — after all, that is what they had been accustomed to since they were in single figures, as strange as that may seem to a woman who has not undergone FGM, and to do otherwise would not undo the damage done by the original ‘operation’. And as she was pregnant, it is clear that the opening left after that operation would have been widened somewhat.
You might guess from Dr Dharmasena’s name that he is not from a background where FGM is normally practised, so he would not have done this out of some kind of cultural commitment to FGM — he would have done it to repair the injuries sustained in childbirth. It is interesting that the woman did not testify and refused to give the police a statement, and in court papers is recorded as saying she was “concerned about being labelled as the first woman in the UK involved in an FGM prosecution” and that the case was “causing [her and her family] great stress and anxiety” (and if the words reported are as she said them, she sounds like a quite articulate young woman). It appears that the state was only interested in making a test case out of this and satisfying demand from the media (it was not ‘public pressure’, just an orchestrated media campaign) to prosecute someone. It’s a second big embarrassment for Saunders (after prosecuting a mentally woman for a ‘false accusation’ of rape, leading to her suicide); someone should be considering whether her position is tenable.
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