Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet


What is female genital mutilation? Female genital mutilation (FGM) is any procedure involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs and is often performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 14 to ensure their virginity until marriage.

Is female genital mutilation harmful?  Yes.  The World Health Organization reports that FGM has no health benefits and can cause a number of health problems.  Immediately following the procedure, girls are at risk for severe pain, shock, bleeding, bacterial infection, and injury to nearby tissue.  In the long term, girls and women who have suffered this procedure are at risk for recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; cysts, infertility, and complications during childbirth.

Is female genital mutilation practiced in the United States?  Because this is a private ritual that occurs within the secrecy of the family, there is no way of knowing exactly how prevalent FGM is in the U.S. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. have either suffered the procedure or are at risk of FGM, a number that approximately doubled between 2000 and 2014.  The estimated number of girls at risk of FGM in the US has quadrupled since 1997.

Is female genital mutilation a crime?  Yes, FGM has been a crime under federal law since 1996 and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

In January 2013, the federal FGM law was amended by the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act, which prohibits knowingly transporting a girl out of the country for the purpose of undergoing FGM. The Act was designed to address the problem of “vacation cutting”, in which girls living in the United States are taken to their parents’ country of origin (typically during school breaks) to undergo the procedure.  Under the new federal law, anyone found guilty of doing so may be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

FGM is also a crime in the following 25 states:

New Jersey
New York
Rhode Island
North Dakota
South Dakota
West Virginia

The AHA Foundation has successfully advocated for laws criminalizing FGM in the United States:

  • Federal Extraterritoriality Amendment - In January 2013, President Obama strengthened the existing federal FGM ban by adding an “extraterritoriality” component, making it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the country for the purpose of undergoing the procedure.  The AHA Foundation’s Founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and our legislative team specifically consulted with Representative Crowley (NY), a key proponent of the Bill, on the serious problem of “vacation cutting”, and lent our support for the language contained in the new Bill.

  • New Jersey - In February 2012, New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg introduced the AHA Foundation’s model FGM legislation, which was signed into law in 2014.

  • Louisiana - In May of 2012, Governor Jindal signed into law a bill criminalizing FGM in the state of Louisiana. This bill includes the AHA Foundation’s model language that also makes it a crime to remove a girl from the state for the purpose of FGM; the law went into effect August 1, 2012.

  • Kansas - In February of 2013, the AHA Foundation provided written testimony in support of a proposed FGM bill in Kansas, which includes an extra-territoriality component and other provisions contained in our model legislation. The Bill was signed into law by Governor Brownback on April 10, 2013.

  • South Dakota - The AHA Foundation provided a response to address concerns that a ban on FGM would infringe on religious freedom. The Foundation also sent a letter in support of the bill to all members of the South Dakota Senate. The legislation was passed by the Senate and signed into law in March 2015.

Download as PDF document

Forced Marriage and Child Marriage Fact Sheet


WHAT IS FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION?  A forced marriage occurs when an individual is forced, coerced, threatened, or tricked to marry without their informed consent.

HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE? In many cultures, it is customary for families to arrange meetings between their children in the hopes of fostering a voluntary relationship that will lead to a marriage. In such situations, while the initial meetings are arranged by the families and a marriage is encouraged, the ultimate decision regarding whether to marry remains with the couple and the choice to marry is strictly voluntary. In contrast, in a forced marriage, an individual is threatened and/or coerced by her family to enter into the marriage against her will and may suffer honor violence if she resists or refuses the marriage.

DOES THIS HAPPEN IN THE UNITED STATES?  Yes. Although this is generally treated as a private family matter that remains hidden from public view, there are numerous reports of girls being taken out of school in the United States in their early teenage years and returned to their parents’ home countries to be forcibly married. For example, in 2007, the New York Daily News reported that a number of girls were being forced to return to Pakistan to marry men chosen by their families. One woman recalled being tricked and drugged before being put on a plane to Pakistan and, once there, being forced at gunpoint to acquiesce to a marriage to a man chosen by her father.

The Tahirih Justice Center released survey results in September of 2011 that found as many as 3,000 known or suspected cases of forced marriage within immigrant communities in the United States in the two years preceding the survey. We believe the actual number of forced marriage cases in the United States to be much higher, as the survey was directed only towards service providers and other professionals.

The AHA Foundation conducted a study in partnership with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice looking at forced marriage in New York City. The researchers interviewed CUNY students whose families originated from countries with a high incidence of forced marriage on their experiences with relationships and marriage. Of those students interviewed, 84% knew of at least one person in their social circle who did not want to marry their partner but did so anyway. The likely reason for this disconnect is family conflict over marital choice.

IS FORCED MARRIAGE A CRIME IN THE UNITED STATES?  There are only ten U.S. states and territories that have specifically outlawed forced marriage (source: Tahirih Justice Center).

Virgin Islands
Washington, D.C.
West Virginia

WHAT IS A CHILD MARRIAGE?  Child marriage is the marriage of a minor below the legal age of maturity, which is 18 in the United States.

DOES THIS HAPPEN IN THE UNITED STATES? Yes. Between the years 2000 and 2010, nearly 250,000 children as young as 12 were married in the United States (source: Unchained at Last).

IS CHILD MARRIAGE LEGAL IN THE UNITED STATES?  There is no state in the U.S. that does not allow marriage below the age of 18 with either parental and/or judicial consent. There are also no mechanisms for judges to determine whether the minor is willfully entering into a marriage or whether there is coercion or force on behalf of the parents (source: Unchained at Last). Connecticut, New York, Virginia, and Texas recently passed legislation to prevent child marriage. Additionally, several states currently have legislation in motion that would outlaw child marriage, including Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Yet, no state legislation outlaw’s child marriage with no exceptions.

Download as PDF document

Honor Violence Fact Sheet

What is honor violence?  Honor violence is a form of violence against women committed with the motive of protecting or regaining the honor of the perpetrator, family, or community.  Victims of honor violence are targeted because their actual or perceived behavior is deemed to be shameful or to violate cultural or religious norms.  Conduct such as resisting an arranged marriage, seeking a divorce, adopting a Western lifestyle and wearing Western clothing, and having friends of the opposite sex have resulted in honor violence.

Honor violence involves systematic control of the victim that escalates over a period of time and may begin at a young age.  Honor violence can be perpetrated by one individual or can be a group campaign of harassment and violence committed by an entire family or community.  It can take many forms, including verbal/emotional abuse, threats, stalking, harassment, false imprisonment, physical violence, sexual abuse, and homicide.

How is honor violence different from domestic violence?  Although honor violence involves violence by one family member against another, it has characteristics that make it unique and warrant a different approach by social service providers and law enforcement.  For example, a perpetrator of honor violence believes that his conduct is justified because of the victim’s actions.  Because this perception is supported by deeply ingrained cultural mores, he is generally not alone in this belief and often has the support of his family and community, either in planning and committing the violence or fleeing from law enforcement afterwards.  Additionally, a victim of honor violence is likely to be shunned by her family and community because she is believed to have caused the violence through her own behavior.  For a victim of honor violence to leave the abusive situation, she must not only part from her abuser, but often must be ready to leave her entire nuclear and extended family, and perhaps even her cultural community.  She will face immense pressure to change the offending behavior so as to bring peace to the family and restore the family’s honor and will be made to believe that she deserves the abuse she is suffering.

Does this happen in the United States?  Yes. There are numerous recent examples of honor violence in the U.S., a few of which are described below.

Aiya Altameemi.  In Arizona in February 2012, 19-year-old Aiya Altameemi was physically assaulted by her mother, father, and younger sister because she was seen talking to a boy.  Her father put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her, while her mother and sister tied her to a bed, taped her mouth shut, and beat her.  This incident followed a previous incident in November 2011 when Aiya’s mother burned her on the face with a hot spoon because she refused to consent to an arranged marriage with a man twice her age.  During an interview with police, Aiya’s parents stated that they had abused their daughter because her behavior violated “Iraqi culture.” Aiya’s mother, father, and sister are all facing charges related to these incidents.

Sarah and Amina Said.
 In Texas in January 2008, Yaser Said shot and killed his teenage daughters, Sarah and Amina, because he was enraged by their Western lifestyle, particularly that they each had boyfriends. During a vigil held for the girls after their deaths, their brother took the microphone and suggested that his sisters were responsible for what had happened to them, saying “They pulled the trigger, not my dad.” Said fled after the murders and has not yet been apprehended.

Noor Almaleki.
 In Arizona in October 2009, Faleh Almaleki murdered his 20-year-old daughter, Noor, by running her down with his vehicle because he believed that she had shamed the family by becoming too Western and refusing to marry a man he had selected for her in Iraq. In February 2011, Almaleki was convicted of murder and sentenced to 34 1⁄2 years in prison.

The AHA Foundation has successfully advocated for government action to address honor violenceIn February 2012, the AHA Foundation provided draft language and a letter of support to Representative Frank Wolf for the Appropriations Bill that would compel the U.S. government to begin tracking honor violence. Once the bill was passed, the Department of Justice (DOJ) was required to begin collecting data on honor violence. As a result, in 2013, the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill directed the DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women and the National Institute of Justice to determine the prevalence of honor violence and recommend best practices for law enforcement and service providers for prevention. A research firm was commissioned by the DOJ to write a report on the prevalence of honor violence in the U.S.; while the research was conducted, the AHA Foundation was frequently consulted and heavily cited in the resulting report, which shared that a critical next step in addressing honor violence in the U.S. is the training law enforcement and frontline service providers.  The AHA Foundation has trained more than 2,500 professionals on how to conduct investigations, identify cases and protect victims of honor violence.

Download as PDF document