A Detroit area physician faces federal charges for allegedly performing female genital mutilation on multiple 6- to 7-year-old girls as part of a religious and cultural practice at a Michigan medical clinic, in what is believed to be the first federal prosecution of its kind in the U.S.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit on Wednesday, the victims’ parents brought them to the clinic in Livonia, Mich., from Minnesota — pretending it was a “special” girls trip — and later told the girls to keep what was happening a secret.
The accused is Jumana Nagarwala, 44, of Northville, Mich., an emergency room doctor at Henry Ford Hospital, who — according to the federal government — is a member of a religious and cultural community that practices female genital mutilation on young girls and women to curb their sexuality and make sex painful. In the U.S., female genital mutilation qualifies as a criminal sexual act as the intent of the procedure is considered to abuse, humiliate, harass or degrade.
Nagarwala did not perform the mutilation at the hospital, the government alleges, but rather at the Livonia clinic.
The U.S. Attorneys Office says this is the first such criminal case in the country, with prosecutors relying on a law that criminalizes the practice of female genital mutilation, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. The doctor, however, could get 10 years to life in prison for another crime she was charged with: Transportation of an individual with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
According to the complaint in U.S. District Court in Detroit, which was unsealed Thursday, phone call records and surveillance video show that in February, two Minnesota girls and their parents went to the Detroit area for what was portrayed as a “special” girls trip. They stayed at a hotel and ended up visiting Nagarwala, thinking they were seeing the doctor because their “tummies hurt.” Instead, the complaint said, the girls had their genitalia altered or removed.
One of the victims said “her parents told her that the procedure is a secret and that she is not supposed to talk about it,” FBI agent Kevin Swanson wrote in his affidavit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
According to the affidavit, the FBI’s investigation has identified other children who may have been victimized by Nagarwala between 2005 and 2007.
Nagarwala is due in federal court in Detroit on Thursday for an initial appearance.
Nagarwala earned her medical degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1998, according to the Henry Ford Health Systems website. Her bio lists the languages she speaks as English and Gujarati, which is spoken by the Gujaratis, who hail from the western India state of Gujarat, the same ethnic area that Mahatma Gandhi came from.
It is unclear what led authorities to the doctor.