OLYMPIA – Washington would become the 41st state in the country to outlaw female genital mutilation (FGM), under legislation passed unanimously today by the Senate.

FGM, the cutting or removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, is often used to control a girl’s sexuality and make her acceptable for marriage in her community. It can cause serious consequences for reproductive health as well as psychological trauma.

“Female genital mutilation is an extreme form of gender-based violence that is unfortunately still practiced in our state,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines). “Forty other U.S. states have already banned FGM, and we have to make sure Washington doesn’t become a haven for this practice.”

SB 5453, sponsored by Keiser, would prevent FGM by:

  • making FGM unprofessional conduct for health care professionals, with penalties including fines, license revocation, and restrictions on scope of practice.
  • creating the crime of FGM, a gross misdemeanor, and establishing a ten-year statute of limitations from the date of the crime, or if the victim is a minor, until the victim turns 28. This timeline would give victims time to process what has been done to them and still be able to seek justice.
  • establishing a civil right of action for victims who are a minor and mirror the criminal statute of limitations. This would allow a minor to file suit for damages against the person who committed FGM.
  • including FGM among the types of child abuse that mandatory reporters are required to disclose to the authorities.

The idea for the bill was brought forward by Absa Samba, founder of the Washington Coalition to End Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

Fatoumata Jammeh, who was subjected to female genital mutilation as a child, testified in the Senate Law & Justice Committee about the experience: “The only thing I remember is being cut, and I experienced a lot of pain. I couldn’t walk … I was really confused, and I didn’t understand what was being done to me.” Testimony by her and others in support of SB 5453 can be viewed here on TVW.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.