Is Female Genital Mutilation Considered A Form of Domestic Violence?

By: A.M. Peabody

When I was approached to run a story on Domestic Violence (DV), I was apprehensive for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, I wanted to find the correlation between FGM and DV.  Secondly, DV is a topic I tend to avoid because of personal reasons.

Domestic Violence is defined as abuse or threats of abuse when the person being abused and the abuser are or have been in an intimate relationship (married or domestic partners, are dating or used to date, live or lived together, or have a child together).  Domestic violence is also considered abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. 

DV comes in the form of physical, verbal, emotional, economic, religious, sexual abuse, marital rape, etc.  Although many men and women alike believe that a man cannot possibly rape his wife, there has always been an argument of dispute.  The argument is that they are married and she belongs to him as his wife; therefore forcible sex is not considered rape.  In today’s world, when a woman rejects, voices the negative or just says the simple two-letter word, ‘no’, the man is required and expected to cease all sexual advances.  The term, “no means no” is exactly what it says.  I guess that clears up the debate about whether or not a man can rape his wife.

Some statistics show that women are much more likely to be victims of ‘intimate partner’ violence.  Women make up 85% of domestic abuse, with 15% victims being men.  Between the years of 2001 and 2012, the number of American women murdered by either current or ex-male partners was 11,766.  The women murdered every day by a current or former partner in the United States was 38,000.  The number of women in the U.S. who experienced physical violence by an intimate partner yearly is 4,774,000.  Those are seriously alarming numbers.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with female genital mutilation.  DV and sexual violence abuse are related.  FGM entails the violation of a girl’s or a woman’s external sexual organ.  Therefore FGM can indeed be considered a form of domestic violence.  In most, if not all of FGM cases, the exciser, cutter or circumciser is given permission by the parents or grandmother or aunt to perform FGM on the girl.  FGM can be categorized as a form of DV because of the violence and domestication involved.

Several decades ago when I lived in my native Liberia, I lost one of my sisters to DV.  Her husband actually beat her to death.  We, her relatives were unaware that she had been the victim of domestic violence for most of the years she had been married to him.  I remember the newspaper headlines as though it was only yesterday.  The headlines on the front page read, “I Beat Her”.  Those were the words her husband uttered to the emergency room physician when he ushered my sister’s lifeless body into the emergency room of the local hospital.  His desperate confession was correct.  He had beaten her with his fist until her body became lifeless in his arms.  He then drove her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.  My intolerance for domestic violence was born that very day.

Hitting a woman or anyone should never be an option.  We have options, such as walking away from an argument.  Take a long ride or drive and think about what started the argument in the first place.  That will give you and the other party time to calm down.  It is almost similar to a time-out for adults.  Couples need to think of alternate steps to take before their arguments escalate to a higher level, such as physical contention.

Beside my sister’s death, I know several women who were subjected to domestic violence by their husbands.  Women caught in DV situations tend to think that they have no choice but to remain in those situations.  Women need to be mindful that DV is against the law, and that help is available to them.  They should never feel trapped in DV situations.

There are now court orders that can be issued to assist law enforcement in preventing domestic violence.  Such court orders can help prevent stalking, intimidation or harassment.  These orders are available in both civil and criminal state courts.  DV is not limited to one type of people.  Domestic violence happens in all cultures, countries, races, nationalities, age groups, socioeconomic groups, the highly educated, religious, and various sexual orientations.

Know your rights when it comes to DV.  The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1994, and was amended in 1996.  With this Act, domestic violence became a national crime covered under federal laws.  In those same years, the U.S. Congress passed changes to the Gun Control Act, which made it a federal crime in certain situations for DV abusers to possess guns.  My sister’s husband did not need a gun to kill her; he used his bare hands to do it.  But with the easy accessibility to guns in the United States, that amendment to the Gun Control Act was critical.

The VAWA states that it is a federal crime to commit the following:

  • To cross state lines or enter or leave Indian country and physically injure an intimate partner
  • To cross state lines to stalk or harass or to stalk or harass within the maritime or territorial lands of the United States (including military bases and Indian country)
  • To cross state lines to enter or leave Indian country and violate a qualifying Protection Order

If you are a victim of VAWA, you have the right to go before a Judge and explain why you feel your life would be in danger if your abuser is granted bail.  You have the right to address the court in person.  As a DV victim, you are entitled to the following rights:

  1. To be treated with fairness and with respect for your dignity as the victim.
  2. To be reasonably protected from the accused offender or abuser.
  3. To be notified of all court proceedings.
  4. To be present at all public court proceedings related to the offense, unless the court determines that testimony by the victim would be materially affected if you, the victim heard other testimony at the trial.
  5. To confer with the attorney for the Government in the case.
  6. The right to restitution.
  7. To information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the abuser.

Now in 2019, the VAWA Bill is hopefully being amended to include female genital mutilation and cutting.  While everyone agrees that FGM is child abuse and a violent act against girls and women, it can also be considered a form of domestic violence.

Here are some warning flags to observe if you are in imminent danger of entering a relationship that might lead to domestic violence:  Isolation (taking you away from family and friends), intimidation (bullying you into fear), making threats, emotional abuse (this is equally as bad as physical abuse), blame (making you feel that it is all your fault, even when he hits you), minimizing your freedom (insisting on knowing your whereabouts every hour of the day), denying the truth (never admitting the truth).

Know that there is help awaiting your call on the other end of the hotline.  The national domestic violence hotline in the U.S. is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).  If you are outside of the U.S. like my sister was without a hotline, find someone whom you can trust and seek assistance.  Do not remain in an abusive relationship.  Do not believe him that no one will believe you.  You never know when the next blow of the fist, a kick, a slap or a gunshot will be the fatal one.  Keep safe!                                             Comments and questions to or call (703) 832-2642

76 Replies to “Is Female Genital Mutilation Considered A Form of Domestic Violence?”

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