A Detroit area physician faces federal charges for allegedly performing female genital mutilation FGM on multiple 6- to 7-year-old girls as part of a religious and cultural practice at a medical clinic in Livonia, in what is believed to be the first federal prosecution of its kind in the U.S.
According to criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, the victims’ parents brought them to the clinic from Minnesota — pretending it was a “special” girls trip — and later told the girls to keep what was happening a secret.
The accused is Jumana Nagarwala, 44, of Northville, an emergency room doctor at Henry Ford Hospital who — according to the federal government — is a member of a religious and cultural community that practices FGM on young girls and women to curb their sexuality and make sex painful. In the U.S., FGM qualifies as a criminal sexual act as the intent of the procedure is considered to abuse, humiliate, harass or degrade.
Nagarwala did not perform FGM at the hospital, the government alleges, but rather at a clinic in Livonia.
The U.S. Attorneys office says this is the first such criminal case in the country, with prosecutors relying on a law that criminalizes the practice of female genitalia mutilation, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. The doctor, however, could get 10-years to life in prison for another crime she was charged with: Transportation of an individual with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
According to the complaint in U.S. District Court in Detroit, phone call records and surveillance video show that in February, two Minnesota girls and their parents came to metro Detroit for what was portrayed as a “special girls trip. They stayed at a hotel in Farmington Hills and ended up visiting Nagarwala, thinking they were seeing the doctor because their “tummies hurt.” Instead, the complaint said, the girls had their genitalia altered or removed.
One of the victims said “her parents told her that the procedure is a secret and that she is not supposed to talk about it,” FBI agent Kevin Swanson wrote in his affidavit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
According to the affidavit, the FBI’s investigation has identified other children who may have been victimized by Nagarwala between 2005 and 2007, including children in Detroit.
“Female genital mutliation constitutes a particularly brutal form of violence against women and girls. it is also a serious federal felony in the United States. The practice has no place in modern society and those who perform FGM on minors will be held accountable under federal law,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch.
Especially egregious, authorities said, is that the accused is a doctor who is supposed to help and heal people.
“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 Kenneth Blanco of the justice department said today, vowing the justice department “is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country.”
On Tuesday, authorities caught up with Nagarwala, who volunteered to be interviewed by a Homeland Security agent and Michigan child protective services personnel, the complaint said. During her interview, she said that she is aware that female genitalia mutilation is illegal in the US, but denied every performing FGM on any minor children. She also said that she had no knowledge of the procedure being performed on anyone in her cultural community.
Nagarwala is due in federal court in Detroit at 1 p.m. for an initial appearance.
According to court documents, investigators relied on cell phone records and surveillance video to piece together the case. It’s unclear what led them the doctor to begin with, but here is what their investigation found:
Phone records showed that the doctor and two families from Minnesota were in regular communication in February. On Feb. 3, the FBI would learn, two young girls from Minnesota and their parents stayed at a Farmington Hills hotel and went to see a doctor at a clinic in Livonia.
A month later, both girls explained what happened on that trip in an interview with a forensic expert with the FBI. One of the girls said that she thought she was coming to Detroit for a “special” girls trip, but after arriving at the hotel, she learned that she and the other girl had to go to the doctor because “our tummies hurt.”
While at the doctor’s office, a procedure “to get the germs out” of her was performed, the complaint stated. That procedure was an FGM. The girl was given a pad to wear, and was told “not to talk about the procedure,” the complaint said. A second girl told a similar story, telling the investigator that “her parents told her that the procedure is a secret and that she is not supposed to talk about it.”
On April 10 and 11, a medical doctor in Minnesota performed medical exams on both girls, pursuant to a search warrant. That doctor told the FBI that both girl’s genitals were not normal in appearance and had been “altered or removed.”
The parents of one of the girls were interviewed by Minnesota Child Protective Services personnel and a federal agent. They said they took the girl to Detroit to see Nagarwala for a “cleansing” of extra skin, the complaint said.
According to the World Health Organization, FGM is an internationally recognized violation of hunan rights of girls and women.
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