‘I don’t want my daughter to go through this’ FGM survivor who resettled in Suffolk tells her story

Suffolk Refugee Support (SRS) currently has six women under its care who have experienced FGM.

Suffolk Refugee Support (SRS) currently has six women under its care who have experienced FGM. - Credit: PA

Flashbacks, painful periods, loss of sex drive and heavy bleeding during pregnancy – these are just some of the problems that Jane has experienced as a result of the forced circumcision she suffered at the age of seven.

Jemma Lynch, FGM Project Coordinator at Suffolk Refugee Support in Ipswich.

Jemma Lynch, FGM Project Coordinator at Suffolk Refugee Support in Ipswich. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

She was in primary school when it happened. Jane and two of her classmates were taken into a room to have the procedure performed by an older woman.

“I was lying on the floor with some people holding me tight for the act to be carried out, no anaesthetic, nothing,” said Jane, who has been given this name to protect her real identity.

“It was really painful and after you experience pain in passing urine, and you keep on bleeding.

“Then I realised what they had done to me. I was told that was the way it should be done, because they said every woman should endure it because that’s the transition.

“Because if you didn’t have it done in Africa they think you are not clean, that you bring bad spirits, and even your family can disown you for bringing shame on the family, and you will never have a man to ask you out for marriage.

“When you have FGM (female genital mutilation) you don’t have sex, you don’t have interest in having sex, and that’s the reason why they are doing it, they don’t want you to jump from one man to the other. You are only meant to have the man who is chosen for you.”

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Jane suffered what is known as type 2 FGM – excision – which involves removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia.

One of the girls who was cut at the same time as her bled to death after the procedure, which was not carried out by a medical professional.

Women and girls who go through FGM can experience infections, cysts, fertility problems, severe psychological trauma and depression.

Jane came to England in 2011 to seek refugee from the sexual abuse she endured in Africa.

Now in her 30s, she first went to London, and she moved to Suffolk while she was pregnant with her daughter.

“When I was brought to Suffolk my midwife asked me if I had experienced it [FGM] and I said yes,” Jane added.

“She said she had to examine me, then after that she told me if I have a baby girl then I shouldn’t have it done to her because it’s not allowed in the UK. That’s when I realised what had happened to me was bad.”

Jane is now receiving help through Ipswich-based charity Suffolk Refugee Support, which has a specialist service for survivors of FGM.

And she is now speaking out about her story in a bid to raise awareness and to put an end to the tortuous crime.

“Many ladies have lost their life due to this act, because after that you keep on bleeding and the family don’t have money to take them to the hospital, so in other words they bleed to death,” Jane said. “So many ladies and girls have lost their family by running away because they don’t want this act to be carried out.

“As a woman I have experienced a lot of abuse in my life and I don’t want my daughter to go through this so I think we have to put a stop to it.”

How Suffolk Refugee Support can help

Suffolk Refugee Support (SRS) currently has six women under its care who have experienced FGM.

The charity has also identified 74 secondary school children and 156 primary school children in Suffolk who may be at risk of FGM due to the countries they come from.

Despite 20 incidents of FGM being reported to Suffolk Constabulary over the past three years, no-one has been prosecuted.

Jemma Lynch, FGM project co-ordinator for SRS, said the best way to tackle the prevalence of the crime was education.

She added: “It’s about educating communities so they know it is illegal and they understand the consequences, and I think that’s also a way of changing attitudes towards it.

“It’s a cultural practice which has been going on for thousands and thousands of years, so it’s a social norm. It’s very difficult to change those attitudes but by making people aware that actually it’s illegal and it’s wrong, especially younger generations, they can then start to challenge the ideas of elders in the communities.”

This summer SRS is running awareness-raising workshops in Suffolk communities that are affected by FGM.

On May 5 the charity also launched a support network for survivors of FGM in conjunction with Suffolk Wellbeing Service. It offers women the chance to get mental health support and also the opportunity to speak to other survivors who have had similar experiences.

For more information or to seek support, contact: Jemma Lynch on Jlynch@suffolkrefugee.org.uk or 01473 400785.

The facts about FGM

Female Genital Mutilation refers to procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

There are four categories of FGM – ranging from a symbolic prick to the clitoris, to the narrowing or sealing of the vaginal opening.

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and since 2003 anyone taking a child out of the UK to be cut faces 14 years in prison.

The Serious Crimes Act 2015 made it mandatory for any regulated professional in England and Wales – doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers – to make a report to the police if they discover that FGM had been carried out on a girl under 18.

UK communities that are most at risk of FGM include Kenyan, Somali, Sudanese, Sierra Leonean, Egyptian, Nigerian and Eritrean.

Non-African communities that practise FGM include Yemeni, Afghani, Kurdish, Indonesian and Pakistani.

FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women – it has no health benefits and has no link with any religion.