At least 25 new cases of female genital mutilation uncovered in our region
- Credit: IAN BURT
At least 25 new cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) were uncovered in our region last year, according to new statistics from NHS Digital.
And while many of these cases were discovered when a woman became pregnant, the Royal College of Midwives has called for more access to services not necessarily within hospitals.
From April 2016 to March 2017, there were at least 15 new cases in Norfolk and at least 10 in Suffolk.
But because of the way data is recorded, this number could be as high as 35 for Norfolk and 26 for Suffolk.
When there were less than five cases in a particular category, this was not included to protect identities.
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In Suffolk, it is not known the type of FGM cases, but in Norfolk these were 10 instances of type one, which is the partial or total removal of clitoris or the prepuce, known as a clitoridectomy.
Whilst the majority of the women identified were between 25 and 30, five of those in Suffolk had FGM carried out on them between the ages of five and nine.
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Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said 'We are still seeing far too many cases of FGM and one case of FGM is still one case too many.
'Whilst these statistics are very useful they become meaningless if we are not providing the services these women need. Too often we are seeing services being closed which means that many survivors of FGM cannot get the support they need.
'I remain concerned about the lack of access to community based FGM services, especially for non-pregnant women, many of whom may not necessarily access services within hospitals.
'The government must also renew its focus in this area given the number of girls at risk of FGM in England, and all of us involved in ending FGM must not slacken our efforts.'
Director of nursing at James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston said their front-line staff receive extensive training on FGM, in line with national guidelines.
She said: 'This helps them recognise FGM and act sensitively to support patients, while addressing their clinical needs and making referrals as required.'
At the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital there was a similar approach. A spokesman said: 'This includes dedicated support and advice in areas where FGM may affect pregnancy and/or childbirth. In complex cases we refer to specialist units.'
Deputy chief nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn, Val Newton said: 'Cases of FGM are uncommon at the trust but we have procedures in place to ensure the women receive the right support and treatment.
'FGM cases often come to light during pregnancy and the trust has a safeguarding midwife who will meet with the woman to offer support along with reviewing her medical history and situation.
'Many women suffer ongoing health problems as a result of FGM so the trust can offer treatment to help the survivor.
'Like all hospitals, the Trust follows guidance set out by the Government and it is also mandatory to formally report any case involving a child to the police.'
Detective Inspector Jim Gooding, Suffolk Police lead for FGM and honour-based abuse said: 'FGM is illegal in the UK and it is also illegal to take a girl out of the country to undergo FGM. We work hard to link in with partners to put safety plans in place for individuals at risk and carry out investigations where appropriate.
'There is now an established process in place that allows regulated health and social care professionals and teachers to complete their obligations of mandatory reporting of 'known' cases of FGM in under 18s which they identify in the course of their professional work directly to the police. These cases will be referred to the MASH (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub) who with partners will investigate the circumstances of each case and decide on the appropriate course of action ensuring that safeguarding procedures have been followed.
'We would urge anyone who is concerned about themselves or someone they know to call us on 101. In an emergency, always dial 999.'
Detective Superintendent Julie Wvendth, who leads Norfolk Constabulary's safeguarding department, said: 'We've carried out a lot of work in recent years to raise awareness of FGM among health, education and other professionals, as well as taking steps to enhance officers and staff understanding of this offence.
'As well as the obvious physical impact, the psychological affect FGM can have on a victim should not be underestimated.'
Det Supt Wvendth, who chairs a partnership group which focuses on issues around FGM, said civil orders will often be considered by partners, where appropriate, to support and safeguard.
She added: 'It is crucial that we continue work together with partner agencies in the county to identify the signs of FGM, to offer help and support where needed and above all to help break the cycle of abuse.
'As a force we will always take positive action against such abuse which includes supporting victims, ensuring a full risk assessment is carried out and, where appropriate, conducting a vigorous investigation.'
A CPS East of England spokesperson said: 'Prosecutors work closely with police, offering advice on their investigations, but when a case is referred to the CPS a prosecution can only be brought where there is sufficient evidence.
'Factors such as the age and vulnerability of FGM victims, who frequently do not want to report offences that could lead to them giving evidence against their family, make it extremely difficult to secure this evidence.
'We welcome the strengthening of the law to encourage more victims to come forward.'
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has long campaigned against FGM. A spokesman said: 'Once more, these figures highlight that FGM continues to affect hundreds of girls and women living in communities across England.
'FGM is child abuse. Despite being illegal for over 30 years, too many people are still being subjected to it and it is right that health services have started to properly record evidence of this horrendous practice.
'The NSPCC Helpline is contacted more than once a day by people worried about girls who may have suffered, or are at risk of, FGM. It takes courage to report concerns as many feel ashamed or worry they will betray friends and family. But we need to end the silence that surrounds FGM to better protect children.'
Those living in Suffolk who are concerned about themselves or someone they know, or if they are living with the consequences of FGM, can contact Suffolk Refugee Support by calling 0808 800 4005 or visit www.suffolkrefugee.org.uk
Alternatively, contact the NSPCC who have a free anonymous FGM helpline which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 028 3550. They can also be emailed at email@example.com