SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Girls as young as two years old are being forced into genital mutilation in Utah, according to advocacy group Aha Foundation, which tracks and works with victims.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 500,000 young girls are at risk of this happening in the U.S. alone. In Utah, there are 1,769 cases of young girls either at risk, or who were already forced into a painful procedure some call barbaric.
A woman who goes by the name Gladis had the procedure done to her.
"It wasn't a pleasant experience, but I just have to do it because traditions calls for it," Gladis said.
Genital mutilation is accepted in some religions, and it's forced only on young girls by their parents as a way to preserve their virginity.
“It's wrong and it's not good at all for a woman,” Gladis said.
Amanda Parker is the director the Aha Foundation. She says the young girls are typically taken behind closed doors when the procedure is done, often by force.
"Their knees are taken and held open, they’re held down, and a sharp instrument like a razor blade or a pair of scissors are used to cut away at the genitals," Parker said.
The CDC says the number of known cases of genital mutilation has quadrupled in the U.S. between 1997 and 2016.
“The act itself is internationally recognized as a human rights abuse,” Parker said.
Recently, a federal judge ruled a ban on the practice was unconstitutional. Now, states are responsible for criminalizing it. Twenty-two states do not have measures in place to prosecute and prevent mutilation procedures, the Aha Foundation reports.
“I was just really shocked that there could be that many cases in Utah,” said State Representative Ken Ivory, referencing the nearly 1,800 cases documented in the state.
Ivory filed a bill this week to impose both criminal and civil penalties on anyone caught authorizing or performing the procedure.
“We had no idea this was happening in our own backyard,” Ivory said.
His bill would make performing genital mutilation a third-degree felony. It would also provide civil relief, up to ten years after the victim turns 18 years old.
“Society can bear the cost, the victim can bear the cost, or we can make the perpetrator bear the cost,” Ivory said.
The bill is in the process of getting a fiscal note. Ivory says it could hit committee next week, and he doesn’t expect any opposition.