Legal loopholes need closing to better safeguard victims of FGM

13/12/2018

This week it has been reported that a ‘loophole’ in the law is leaving girls at heightened risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage.

The number of British girls believed to be at risk of FGM has more than doubled with mentions of the often hidden crime featured in 1,960 social work assessments in 2017/18 – more than twice the 970 cases reported the previous year.

Currently concerned professionals or an individual who believes they are at risk of abuse can apply to the Family Court for a protection order for the judge to make a decision on a course of action. Once the order has been served to the applicant it is left up to them to inform the police.

In many cases of FGM, the police are not even aware of the protection orders in place and are therefore are acting late, or not taking action at all, when breaches occur – this is a national issue.

There is a clear disconnect between the civil and criminal justice systems and, even with the National Police Chief’s Council enhancing the system of informing the police of these orders, too often it is still not being used to it’s full potential and 30% of orders are still falling through the cracks.

We need to connect research, policy, lived experiences and technology to be able to explore ways that existing systems and processes could better protect these vulnerable girls and prevent FGM offences now, as well as looking at where the opportunities lie for solutions for the future.

Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne expresses her concern saying, “My experience over the past six years as a PCC has put me at close quarters with victims of this type of abuse as well as a range of dedicated professionals all committed to supporting their immediate needs and protecting them into the future.

“Sadly, legacy technology systems and historical protocols mean that these women and young girls often have to navigate an ageing criminal justice system that hinders information-sharing between agencies that should better protect them.

“I believe that domestic abuse, stalking and FGM are still significantly under reported in Sussex and across the country, which is why it is essential that the police and partners work even more closely together.

“The onus should never be placed on the victim to inform the police of protection orders. I agree with professionals in the criminal justice system when they say that the courts should be responsible for notifying police and the police should have responsibility of serving the order. No delays, confusion or missed safeguarding opportunities.

“Now is the time to make these simple but necessary improvements to our systems and processes.”

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