An Exclusive with Senator Richard H. Black Addressing the Horrors of Female Genital Mutilation

The Virginia Senate recently passed a bill on the unlawful practice of female genital mutilation/cutting in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Global Woman P.E.A.C.E Foundation had the opportunity to interview the author of the bill, Senator Richard H. Black of Virginia 13th District.  We want to clarify that religion has nothing to do with the practice of FGM/C.  It is not a religious practice.

GWPF:  Senator, thanks for agreeing to speak with us.  You recently introduced a bill (1060) to the Virginia Senate.  What caused you to take such a step against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C)?

Senator:  I knew nothing of female genital mutilation until reading of it recently.  I studied a few articles on it and was astounded at the brutality practiced on little girls from the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia.  It was stunning that these cruel, primitive practices were becoming entrenched in American communities.

GWPF:  Please tell us about the bill you introduced.

Senator:  The bill medically defines the practice.  It makes it a criminal offense to mutilate a girl or for a parent or person responsible for the child to consent to the acts.  SB 1060 contains a provision that should be added to every other FGM statute:  It gives the victim the right to sue anyone responsible for mutilating her, or who consented to her being mutilated.  The right to sue continues for 10 years after she reaches the age of 18.  I consider this the most important part of the bill.  Since this hideous practice takes place in culturally closed communities, it is difficult to prosecute.  However, anyone complicit in mutilating a child must worry about the very real possibility that the girl may seek to avenge herself years later, once she realizes the horror inflicted on her.  Parents who have this done may end up losing everything they own once a jury hears how they maimed and destroyed their daughter’s life.  And the person performing these actions may not only face multiple criminal charges but multiple civil lawsuits that lead to bankruptcy as well.  Since both compensatory and punitive damages are allowed under SB 1060, the risks incurred by a child mutilator under this bill are enormous.

GWPF:  Hopefully this should make a parent think twice before making that decision.  What are the prospects of SB 1060 being put into law?

Senator:  SB 1060 passed the Senate unanimously.  Its prospects are excellent.

GWPF:  That is great news.  What is the current status of the Bill?

Senator:  The bill has been referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee.  We are waiting for them to set it on the calendar for a hearing.

GWPF:  More than twenty states in the U.S. have had laws in place against FGM/C since the   1990’s.  Why has Virginia taken so long to take steps against the practice of FGM/C?

Senator:  Sources report that Virginia has the fourth or sixth greatest prevalence of female mutilations in the nation.  Yet, the press says little about this practice.  I suspect it is because they feel uneasy highlighting a horror emanating principally from primitive Islamic regions.  This political correctness results in thousands of female genital mutilations every year.  And this is a practice never before seen in America.  We must stop it.  Immigrants cannot bring savagery into this nation if they hope to integrate into the American culture.  There are some practices that are simply unacceptable among civilized people.

GWPF:  Bill 1060 states that the penalty for practicing FGM/C in Virginia is a felony with a minimum sentence of 5 years and maximum of 20 years.  What would constitute a minimum sentence and what for a maximum sentence?

Senator:  This year, Virginia experienced a significant budget shortfall.  As a result, the criminal sanctions were revised dramatically to prevent the bill failing for lack of appropriation.  For the time being, we were forced to lower the criminal penalty to one year.  We will revisit this during next year’s session.  However the revision was skillfully drafted so that a female mutilator can be sentenced simultaneously for FGM and for other crimes as well.  I believe FGM could be simultaneously prosecuted as the crime of aggravated malicious wounding, since the child victim suffers permanent and significant physical impairment.  FGM is “malicious” under Virginia precedent, which says, “Malice inheres in the doing of a wrongful act intentionally, or without just cause or excuse…”  ‘It may be inferred from acts and conduct which necessarily result in injury.’”  Hernandez v. Commonwealth, 15 VA.App. 626, 631, 426 S.E.2d 137, 140 (1993) (citations omitted).  Aggravated malicious wounding is a Class 2 felony, punishable by 20 years to life in prison and fine of up to $100,000.  For that reason, the way we drafted the bill, a prosecution for FGM can be combined with malicious wounding in a way that carries extremely severe penalties up to life in prison.

GWPF:  This is pertinent information for the public to know.  Vacation Cutting is when a girl is taken from the U.S. to another country for the purpose of performing FGM/C on her.  Is vacation cutting included in Bill 1060?

Senator:  Vacation cutting is covered by SB 1060.  The criminal and civil penalties apply to those who take a child outside of Virginia for genital mutilation.  That includes New York or Somalia.

GWPF:  In order for the law to work, if it is signed into law, educating the residents of the Commonwealth is significant.  Do you have any future plans to educate law enforcers, frontline healthcare workers, teachers and counselors?

Senator:  We will need to address education in a future session.  It is not presently addressed by SB 1060.

GWPF:  According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), close to 31,000 girls and women in Virginia are either at risk of undergoing FGM/C or have already experienced it.  Is there a strategic statewide campaign planned to both educate and raise awareness in the communities?  If not, is it something the Commonwealth would consider?

Senator:  There is no statewide effort of any kind, to my knowledge.  My bill is the first attempt to address this problem in Virginia.

GWPF:  And you are to be commended for putting forth this bill. What impact do you hope for Bill 1060 to have on the people of Virginia?

Senator:  I hope that SB 1060 will begin attacking the practice of female genital mutilation.  The bill is not the end of the effort; it is the beginning.  I do hope that the Virginia Bar will educate attorneys on the opportunity of civil recoveries by filing lawsuits on behalf of young women who have been mutilated.  A few successful lawsuits for female genital mutilation will have a significant chilling effect on the cultural practice.  My objective is not simply to pass a bill; it is to attack the cultural support for the practice.

GWPF:  We are pleased to hear that.  The United Nations wants FGM/C to be eradicated from the world by the year 2030.  Do you believe it is a realistic target date?

Senator:  I do not believe that female genital mutilation will ever be eradicated in the Middle East or Africa.  It is too intertwined with the notion of female submissiveness under Wahhabism, which is the most violent and primitive form of Islam.  As long as Saudi Arabian petro dollars export Wahhabism across the globe, female genital mutilation will continue its viral growth across the world.

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