Legislation creates criminal penalties, provides protections for victims
BOSTON – The House of Representatives has approved legislation sponsored by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) that would criminalize female genital mutilation (FGM) in Massachusetts while offering protections to victims.
House Bill 4606, An Act relative to the penalties for the crime of female genital mutilation, was engrossed by the House on July 16, and now heads to the Senate for further action. The bill is a redrafted version of Representative Jones’ original FGM bill (House Bill 1466) and two similar bills sponsored by Representatives Natalie Higgins and Jay Livingstone (House Bill 3332) and Senator Joseph Boncore (Senate Bill 834).
Massachusetts is currently one of only 12 states that have not banned FGM, despite being identified by the CDC as having the 12th-largest at-risk population in the country. Representative Jones filed his bill after a federal FGM ban approved by Congress in 1996 was struck down by a U.S. District Court judge. In 2018, the court declared the ban unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause, ruling that the authority to prohibit this practice resides with the states, not with Congress.
House Bill 4606 would impose a penalty of up to 5 years in state prison, or a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for up to 2 ½ years in a house of correction, for anyone who knowingly performs an FGM procedure on a person under the age of 18, or who transports someone under the age of 18 within the Commonwealth or outside the state for these purposes.
House Bill 4606 requires the Commissioner of Public Health to implement an educational program on FGM prevention, and to partner with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Children and Families, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Attorney General’s office, and other government and non-governmental organizations to protect and provide assistance to FGM victims. It also directs the Commissioner of Public Health to develop recommendations for training health services providers to recognize the risk factors and warning signs associated with FGM.
Under the bill, FGM victims will also be able to bring a civil action seeking damages, and treble damages may be awarded if the defendant’s acts are deemed to be willful and malicious. Civil actions must be commenced within 10 years, but the time limit is tolled until the child has attained the age of 18.
“FGM is not medically necessary and offers absolutely no health benefits, but it carries serious health-related risks and can cause lifelong psychological and emotional trauma,” said Representative Jones. “The protections contained in this bill will provide both a voice and a shield for those young girls that are most at risk for FGM. I’m proud to be part of a bipartisan effort – along with Representative Higgins, Representative Livingstone, and Senator Boncore – to pass legislation that will criminalize FGM, provide support for victims, and impose penalties against those who perform FGM.”