I am a white, Christian woman who was born and raised in the United States. When I was five years old, my genitals were cut. In memory of my sister, I share my story with you today—International Day of the Girl Child—to break the silence about this child abuse in our country.
My parents told me and my sister that we were going on a “special trip.” We took a plane ride to an unknown destination and were met by strangers at the gate. There, my sister and I were separated until the end of the trip. Little did I know that this trip would not only take away my childhood, but change my life forever.
I couldn’t understand these strangers because I was hearing impaired and was non-verbal at that point, so I couldn’t communicate well without my sister’s help. I was terrified. Eventually we reached a house, and I clung tight to my doll, my only source of comfort or anything familiar.
The next morning, a woman woke me up and grabbed my hand. She led me down a dark staircase to a room filled with more strangers around a table. They set me down on the table, and each person took one arm and one leg. I was unsure what was happening, and tried to fight back. I cried, screamed, and yelled, but nothing helped. Eventually, someone covered my eyes and mouth. This made me lose all contact with the world—because I was hearing impaired, my eyes were really my only communication with the world.
The next thing I remember was feeling the coldness of whatever they used to cut me on my bare skin. I can still remember the intense pain that followed the initial cut. To this day, I have never experienced anything to compare to that feeling. After that, I blacked out. I went somewhere safer. When I woke up, I immediately became aware that I couldn’t move. When I looked around, my legs were bound together with rope.
My favorite doll that I had brought on the trip was sitting in a pool of my blood. After being cut, I remember being very sick, and the strangers kept putting a cold cloth on my head to cool me down. This type of trauma on someone’s body is almost too much to handle, nevertheless a five-year-old. The whole time during my “recovery” I prayed for God to take away all the pain, and reunite me with my family. I was worried I would never see them again.
Eventually, I was able to walk again and was reunited with my sister. This was a huge relief for me, but it was different than before. We were both changed forever. The trip back home was filled with silence, confusion, and sorrow. I was anxious to get home, back in the protection of my parents, and have my sister tell my parents what had happened to us. When we got home, I saw that my mom had baked a cake, which was unusual. My sister and I were both miserable, but were told we were celebrating “being obedient to God.” My mom told my sister and I that it would be a sin to ever tell anyone what happened to us. It was really hard to realize in that moment that she knew.
We weren’t the same people after that. Teachers labeled me a “troublemaker” due to the frequent bathroom trips I was taking because of complications from female genital mutilation (FGM). To not cause trouble, I began to try to hold it in rather than excuse myself from class, leaving me incredibly uncomfortable and totally distracted from what was being taught in the lesson
Because of this procedure, all of my children were delivered via c-section. It was not until my fifth child that a doctor even inquired as to what had happened to me. Only after this inquiry did I realize that this procedure was not something all women were forced to undergo. If there was a greater degree of education among teachers, doctors, counselors, and others who are likely to encounter survivors, I probably could have started my path to healing much sooner in life.
My sister was normally very strong, outspoken, and full of life. After the trip, she became very serious and quiet. I think in some ways the silence was the hardest part for her. She tried to overcome this trauma, she graduated from college, got married, and had beautiful children. But she struggled every day to cope with what we went through that trip. She always looked for anything that would help her deal with the pain and trauma she was still working through.
We were never going to be healthy until we talked about it. I lost my sister; she died in her sleep. A big part of me died that day too, but she also saved my life that day. I didn’t have her to depend on anymore, so it made me start asking questions. Silence can kill you if you don’t talk about the pain you’ve been through. I decided to start talking about what happened to me because of my sister. I needed to be the voice for her, and say the things she never got to say, as well as for my daughters. There are people in their lives that still believe in this practice.
The idea of any of my daughters going through the same pain is unbearable to me. The practice of FGM is hidden from the world and the number of victims could be much greater than what we know. We are told to suffer alone and never to discuss the injuries and abuse that we have endured. As somebody with relatives who still support the underlying beliefs of this practice, the fear that my own children could be carried away and subjected to this abuse is devastating. I started researching resources and reached out to AHA Foundation about helping me criminalize FGM in Kentucky, meet with legislators, and raise awareness in my state. Doing advocacy work is the most opposite thing in the world to who I am, but there are over 1,800 girls that could be at-risk of this practice just in Kentucky, and to me, one is too many.
Silence will perpetuate this practice. It was healing for me to talk to legislators, to tell them my story, and to be heard. I feel like I am doing something positive in response to something so negative that happened. I am optimistic that we will get a law passed in Kentucky. Criminalizing FGM will serve as a deterrent to those who want to cut their girls; it will also send a message to survivors and at-risk girls that they have a choice, that they do not need to be subjected to this practice, and that can seek help if they are already dealing with the resulting traumas. FGM is not yet banned in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
As a survivor and as a mother, I ask you to urge your representatives to pass an anti-FGM bill and protect the women and girls in your state from this horrendous child abuse.