Another chance for state's lawmakers to get it right

Tuesday, July 18, 2017
 | 
Charlie Butts (OneNewsNow.com)

MaineThere's hope that a bill in Maine banning female genital mutilation will be reconsidered by lawmakers.

In late June, Maine's Senate unanimously passed L.D. 745, a bill banning the practice; but just two days later, Democrats in the House, joined by three Republicans, voted it down. That came after the American Civil Liberties Union got involved and convinced lawmakers to instead create an education and outreach program aimed at stopping the practice in immigrant communities. In other words, allow young girls to continue to be mutilated while trying to educate a largely closed group of people.

Since the bill failed to make it through the House, the Senate Thursday is expected to take advantage of a rule that could revive it; and if passed in the Senate, the House will be given another chance to vote on it.

State Representative Heather Sirocki, sponsor of the bill, says the practice is child abuse, pure and simple.

"It is clearly sexual assault as well – and one might even argue it's domestic violence," she tells OneNewsNow. "This is a horrific, barbaric cultural tradition [and] we need to send a clear message we just do not do that here. It's not acceptable; it is a crime, a punishable crime."

Opponents of Sirocki's bill argue female genital mutilation really isn't happening in Maine, but the lawmaker did her homework.

"I had the billing code numbers run through the state of Maine, and last year we did have eight female genital mutilation codes identified by medical providers who were reimbursed for treating people who had specifically problems related to female genital mutilation," she offers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than half a million girls and women in the U.S. have already been subjected to such mutilation, or are at risk of having it inflicted upon them. Sirocki contends that about 400 young girls and women are at risk in Maine.

Clearly enforceable law needed

Prosecutors in the state want a law passed so they can take defendants to court for committing female genital mutilation. So says Maeghan Maloney, a district attorney serving two counties who also heads the Maine Prosecutors Association.

"They're unanimous in wanting this bill because the definition of assault is 'offensive physical contact,'" she states. "So how do we prove that the contact is offensive if the parents sign off on having this cutting done to their child?"

The adult might be charged with child abuse under current law, but a judge could rule state law on abuse doesn't cover the practice of mutilation. Maloney says prosecutors need clarification – and passing the ban, she argues, would do that.

"Now if an adult wants to do whatever they want to themselves, that's fine – but we do have an obligation to protect children," the DA explains. "And that's why the Maine Prosecutors Association would like to see this statute passed."

Prosecutors, she adds, don't want to use a separate statute to try to fit the facts of female genital mutilation, but instead prefer a law that can clearly be enforced.


7/19/2017 - Comments from Maloney added.

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