A Detroit emergency room doctor has been charged with performing genital mutilation on young girls in what is believed to be the first criminal case of its kind brought by U.S. prosecutors.
Jumana Nagarwala, 44, of Northville, Mich., was charged in federal district court in Detroit with female genital mutilation, transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and making a false statement to a federal officer, court records show. In a criminal complaint, FBI Special Agent Kevin J. Swanson alleged that two young girls traveled with their parents from Minnesota so Nagarwala could perform the procedure on them in early 2017, and that investigators had identified other children who might have been victimized between 2005 and 2007.
The Justice Department said the case is believed to be the first brought under the particular U.S. law that criminalized female genital mutilation.
“According to the complaint, 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 A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement. “The Department of Justice is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country, and will use the full power of the law to ensure that no girls suffer such physical and emotional abuse.”
Female genital mutilation — or removing all or part of a female’s genital for nonmedical reasons — is considered a human rights violation, though it is practiced extensively in some African countries and areas of the Middle East, according to UNICEF. A June 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office found that increased immigration from countries where it is practiced had brought it to the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2012, 513,000 women and girls here were “at risk of or had been subjected” to it.
The report also found that while female genital mutilation was a crime under federal and many state laws, there were few investigations or prosecutions stemming from it — because of underreporting and other problems. The report said the FBI had two investigations from 1997 to 2015, one which resulted in a prosecution on other charges. Department of Justice officials indicated to the Government Accountability office they were aware of two state prosecutions involving the practice.
According to the complaint against Nagarwala, members of a particular religious and cultural community are known to use the procedure — which some see as a way to curb sexuality in girls. The complaint did not identify the community but said Nagarwala was a part of it.
Nagarwala worked as an emergency room doctor for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, though the complaint alleges the mutilation took place elsewhere — at a medical clinic in nearby Livonia, Mich. The complaint did not identify the clinic. Henry Ford Health System said in a statement: “We would never support or condone anything related to this practice” and that Nagarwala was placed on administrative leave.
Relatives of Nagarwala did not immediately return phone messages, and court records did not list a lawyer for her.
According to the criminal complaint, one of Nagarwala’s victims, a 7-year-old girl, told investigators she had been brought to Michigan for a “special” girls’ trip, and once there, she was taken to see Nagarwala. Another girl, also 7, described how she got a painful “shot,” and that her parents told her not to talk about it.
The girl said she could barely walk after the procedure, according to the complaint. Other doctors later examined the children and saw evidence of genital mutilation. The parents of one of the children said they took her to Detroit to see Nagarwala for a “cleansing” of extra skin.
Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios of the FBI’s Detroit Division said in a statement the allegations were “disturbing,” and the FBI was “committed to doing whatever necessary to bring an end to this barbaric practice and to ensure no additional children fall victim to this procedure.”
The complaint alleged that other girls in Michigan also said Nagarwala had performed such procedures on them, though it did not specify how many. Two parents acknowledged that Nagarwala had performed procedures on their daughter’s genitals, while others denied knowledge of the procedure, according to the complaint.
Nagarwala herself told investigators that she knew genital mutilation was illegal and that she did not know of anyone performing it in her community, nor had she done it herself.