‘Underground’: American Who Underwent Female Genital Mutilation Comes Forward to Help Others

Olivia Smith, ABC News, June 22, 2016

When “Sarah” first told her story, she did not want to show her face or give her real name. The American-born woman underwent female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting, when she was 7 years old.

In 2015, ABC News interviewed her, obscuring her face for privacy and giving her a pseudonym.

“I remember feeling pain,” she told ABC News. “I was crying, so I was scared during it because it hurt.”

In 2016 she decided to publicly reveal herself as Mariya Taher.

“It’s definitely scary to come out with my face on camera,” Taher, 33, told ABC News. “I don’t want to be judged for having undergone female genital cutting or viewed as a victim.”

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“This is something that is viewed as child abuse, and it’s something that is happening to a girl that doesn’t have the capacity yet to consent to it,” Taher said.

Taher lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and she said she is “trying to work to stop the practice of female genital cutting from continuing.”

As a child, Taher underwent what is called vacation cutting, or sending a child abroad to have FGM performed. Taher was visiting relatives in Mumbai, India, with her family when her mother took her to have the procedure done.

“I remember being taken to an old-looking building and going up a flight of stairs and going into the apartment building,” Taher said. “I remember being put on the ground, and my dress was pulled up, and I remember something sharp cut me.”

FGM is occurring not just abroad. This year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the number of women and girls who may have undergone the procedure in the past or may be at risk for undergoing the procedure in the future more than tripled in the U.S. from 2000 to 2013 and that more than 500,000 women and girls in America may be at risk in their lifetime.

“[That is] threefold higher than the last time we did a similar estimate in the ’90s and, in fact, fourfold higher in girls under the age of 18,” said Dr. Thomas Clark, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC’s division of reproductive health.

Officials from various organizations attribute the increase in the U.S. to a combination of factors, including an influx of female immigrants who were cut in their homelands, American-born women and girls sent abroad for vacation cutting and others who undergo the procedure in the U.S.

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