On the day that the Home Affairs Select Committee publish the report of their inquiry into Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), National Policing Lead for Honour-Based Violence, Forced Marriage and FGM, Commander Mak Chishty has spoken of the large amount of positive activity with communities and other outside partners which is helping the police understand and better tackle this horrific act.
I have noted with interest the findings of the Home Affairs Select Committee in their report on FGM.
I strongly welcome the fact that many of the recommendations which ACPO has made in relation to improving the legal framework supporting FGM detection and prevention, such as FGM Protection Orders, a review of female genital cosmetic surgery and a recommendation to place the FGM multi-agency practice guidelines on a statutory footing, have been adopted by the committee.
It is important to reiterate that there is a massive amount of work being done by the police service around the country to prevent the victimisation of women and girls through this harmful practice.
Our strategy has always been to raise awareness, educate families and communities, work closely with partner organisations, while seeking out all possible prosecution opportunities.
Officers are trained, through the College of Policing, in spotting the signs of FGM and are working to investigate it in a sensitive and caring manner, with an approach that puts the victim or potential victim firmly at the centre of our work.
In addition, specialist teams deal specifically with safeguarding, working to nationwide common principles, but also tailoring their approach to the needs and requirements of the communities in which they work locally.
Let me highlight some of the local ways in which forces are participating in this nationwide work:
Derbyshire Police have implemented training programmes and are developing an FGM action plan. They have also activated safeguarding procedures following three referrals from maternity services and have been taking part in community events on honour-based violence and FGM.
Northumbria Police have had meetings with local healthcare representatives to have in-depth discussions on FGM and encourage reporting of cases where there is the fear that FGM may have taken place. They are mapping communities to identify risk areas, developing local policy on the topic and have requested the development of a separate flagging system for FGM in their crime reports. They are developing a communications strategy and participating in safeguarding boards.
West Midlands Police have had FGM firmly on their agenda for many years, with training on dealing with FGM on the syllabus for detectives and child abuse specialists for five years. They have supported anti-FGM conferences, distributed posters to schools, surgeries and community centres, conducted web-chats on the topic, offered training to school representatives and are continuously working to improve their working practices in partnership with outside organisations, communities and the CPS, as well as sharing good practice with other forces. They are also an active member of the Birmingham Against FGM group, and have been for many years.
Greater Manchester Police are members of the FGM Greater Manchester Partners’ Forum and have also conducted a leafleting campaign among communities. They have been developing very sound working practices on a policing level and include FGM prevalence and FGM profiles in their reporting. They have also been developing initiatives for use in schools.
Meanwhile, further south, Avon and Somerset Police are also involved in their local FGM Safeguarding Partnership and have conducted summer awareness campaigns, supported a locally-produced play designed to raise awareness of the programme, sent representatives to an FGM Zero Tolerance Day event, have developed and implemented e-learning packages for officers, have highlighted the issue with their local media and have even advised the BBC on an FGM storyline for a special two-part edition of Casualty, which is filmed in the Bristol area.
Of course, these are all just examples from a small number of forces of additional activities which aid and supplement core policing work in this area – keeping people safe and cutting crime. But the two must be and are complementary with the work in our towns and communities.
Several airside operations at airports have resulted in a number of fruitful investigations and a lot of awareness-raising through the distributing of information leaflets and the very helpful ‘FGM Passport’ which carries key information on the law and support available.
The police are working very closely with the NSPCC's Childline and their dedicated FGM helpline, which has an increasing number of reports being made to it.
I am as concerned as the select committee about the low level of prosecutions to date, but that does not mean that the problem is not being addressed. All reports are taken seriously and investigated fully, and all those incidents of FGM and/or FGM-related crime activity are now referred to the CPS for a review of the evidence. All 42 forces in England and Wales have agreed a protocol with the CPS for the investigation and prosecution of FGM offences. In addition I have made it clear that anyone involved in the chain of events leading to FGM, anyone who aids and abets it will be subject to robust investigation with a view to prosecution. This includes those who knowingly facilitate the practice through money-lending and arranging travel and so forth.
We have produced, with the CPS and, soon, with the involvement of the College of Policing, a specific training course for the effective investigation and prosecution of FGM and forced marriage offences. This training commenced on 10th February 2014.
FGM is a serious crime, which requires serious policing responses. The police service is dedicated to eradicating this harmful child abuse practice within our shores and supporting those living with the effects of it. This is a stance shared by all levels of the service, from those who can and do provide leadership within forces, down to officers and non-warranted officers on the ground. Our work continues apace.