Kentucky Survivor Breaks Silence About Genital Mutilation

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 todayInternational Day of the Girl Childto break the silence about this child abuse in our country. 

A Trip That Changed Our Lives

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.

“I can still remember the intense pain that followed the initial cut.”

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.

Our Lives After Genital Cutting

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.

“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.”

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.

“Silence can kill you if you don’t talk about the pain you’ve been through.”

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. 

“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.”

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.

20 Comments

  1. Monica says:

    Horrified. Just Horrified. How can anyone “cut” any part of a little girl… Her most intimate and innocent part? Horrified. People who believe there is any “ggod” reason for this to happen to anyone should be ASHAMED.
    We were all born of equal value. And all the people that believe in a GOD… I have one question: If God didn’t want that part of a little girl to be there… WHY is it there? This is giving the fault of human arrogance to a God that if does exists could have never allow such an Unbearable act of INSANE CRUELTY in an attempt to destroy the value and the rights of a Perfectly BEAUTIFUL Creature: a little girl, a woman. Speak UP. Always. Silence is Complicity. This cannot be allowed to any defenseless, little girl. Let’s all us women fight like the Beautiful Strong Lions that we are. Make your Roar heard: No one, Nowhere, for No reason shooudl ever Endure this Ignorant Human
    Torture.

  2. Nadja says:

    In Egypt and Ethiopia the indigenous Christians do practice FGM. The Copts and the Ethiopians commonly practice it. So did the Felasha Jews until they moved to Israel. I can believe that some of the more extreme people of any religious group would encourage the practice to keep women “in their place.”

  3. The AHA Foundation says:

    Rebecca,

    FGM is a cultural practice, not religious. There are many misconceptions about FGM that lead people to believe that it is a “Muslim practice,” but no major religion mandates this practice. Cultures who place an extremely high value on a women’s virginity or “purity” adopt this practice as a tactic to lower a woman’s libido and ensure virginity until marriage. FGM has no health benefits, and needs to be banned in every state in the U.S. to ensure women and girls are safe from this practice.

  4. The AHA Foundation says:

    Laura,

    FGM is a cultural practice, not religious. There are many misconceptions about FGM that lead people to believe that it is a “Muslim practice,” but no major religions mandate this practice. Cultures who place an extremely high value on a women’s virginity or “purity” adopt this practice as a tactic to lower a woman’s libido and ensure virginity until marriage. FGM has no health benefits, and needs to be banned in every state in the U.S. to ensure women and girls are safe from this practice.

  5. The AHA Foundation says:

    Lynn,

    Thank you for your kind words and support! We will make sure to pass them on to the survivor. Thank you for supporting us!

  6. The AHA Foundation says:

    Dear Lisa,

    Thank you for this comment and distinguishing cultural practices from religious practices. You’re exactly right. Thank you for your support!

  7. The AHA Foundation says:

    Thanks for the support, Shanden!

  8. Shanden says:

    When it is predominantly practiced by the religious, it becomes a religious practice, or at least one shouldn’t hesitate to place it in that category. Despite there being a lack of book and verse in a doctrine for this, it becomes a religious practice when it is “being obedient God” or that “it would be a sin to tell anyone”. Male circumcision is from the Jewish faith. So circumcision, or genital mutilation, generally speaking is a religious practice.

    The distinction of is it being on a female doesn’t have a definitive doctrinal source.

    None of it is acceptable or tolerable. Ultimately, this has to stop. Thank you for sharing this story and the work you all do at AHA.

  9. Lynn Turner says:

    You are a very brave woman and you should be so proud of yourself! It is so difficult to talk about something like this. Your pain and suffering, both physically and mentally, must be tremendous.

    I realize not many people know or understand this practice. But traditions run deep in cultures and religions.

    Thank you for standing up for yourself, your sister, your daughters and other women!!!!

  10. The AHA Foundation says:

    Dear Alma,

    Thank you for your comment! FGM is not a religious practice, but a common misconception is that it is a Muslim thing. There is no religion that condones or encourages FGM, but rather many cultures and religions adopt this practice that place a higher value on the virginity of the women in their families. Thanks for supporting the Foundation!

  11. Lisa Fontes says:

    To be clear, female genital mutilation is neither a “Christian thing” nor “a Muslim thing,” but rather a physically and psychologically traumatizing cultural tradition used to dominate women in some parts of the world. Thankfully, men and women are waking up to its harmful effects and working to make FGM a thing of the past.

    I am grateful to the author for this moving account of her experience.

    Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD.
    Author: Child Abuse and Culture

  12. Alma Nielsen says:

    I can’t understand this whole story – what white christian or any christian person at all would do this to their child? It’s not a christian thing, but a muslim thing. Ho can any woman who has had this done want it done to her own daughter? Yes, it is beyond belief for sure. what is the logic about such a practice? If it’s for God, how can anyone ask a girl to hide it? think of all the suffering it has caused all those thousands of years. thousands of years of suffering is just unbelievable. How can women of any religion allow such a thing to go on for so long> That’s unbelievable, indeed.

  13. Melissa Knox says:

    FGM should be criminalized in all states. Schoolteachers should be trained to recognize girls who are at risk. The United States should lead in abolishing this horrible practice.

  14. Laura H. says:

    Yes, please give more information! What “white Christian” group in the United States would ever allow such criminal behavior? I understand it’s been a part of some African tribes for many centuries, before Islam, and does involve some African Christians. But what US Christians have started doing this?

  15. Rebecca Kase says:

    I have never heard of this being done in Christian
    churches, yet the story seems to imply the family was Christian. It could have been a cult but not a
    Christ following church.

  16. What “Christian Religion” were you? Name the Church so they can be publically shamed and shut down. As a former California teacher in high school, I can tell you that when we covered the Abuse of Power Unit (stemming from the teaching of The Crucible and the so-called “Witch Trials” that when I brought up FMG happening in the USA, I was roundly “crucified” by “Christian” parents, especially”Christian” parents of students who were lazy and failing. Some parents really prefer their young men and women remain as ignorant as possible. It’s often these kids who are pregnant by their junior year.

  17. Turid E Bjerke says:

    Submit a Proposal to President Trump in order to make a law for Criminalizing FGM!

  18. Margaret says:

    What a brave woman. Thankyou. This world is full of crazy ideologies which must be exposed.

  19. Karen says:

    But why did her mother allow it? Why did she want it done? it’s the most horrifying story and it makes me very angry that anyone could do this to a child. It is beyond belief!

  20. Anita Ingram says:

    Thank you for sharing your story!

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