Detroit doctors accused of female genital mutilation may have harmed around 100 girls, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday, also saying she had evidence that eight specific girls had undergone the procedure.
Right now, three Michigan residents—Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, and his wife, Farida—face felony charges in connection with the female genital mutilation of two seven-year-old Minnesota girls. In 1996, federal law prohibited female genital mutilation. This is the first federal case involving the practice.
“Due to the secretive nature of this procedure, we are unlikely to ever know how many children were cut by Dr. [Jumana] Nagarwala. … The Minnesota victims were not the first victims,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward.
Prosecutors claim the girls were brought to Livonia, Michigan, where Nagarwala cut their genitals at Burhani Medical Clinic, owned by Fakhruddin Attar. Farida Attar allegedly held the girls’ hands during the procedure. The complaint says law enforcement later found one of the girls’ missing winter gloves in the clinic. Both doctors face life in prison if convicted, and Farida Attar could spend up to 20 years behind bars.
At a hearing yesterday, Woodward argued that the court should not release the Attars on house arrest.
The prosecutor told the judge that the doctors had been performing female genital mutilation for as long as 12 years. Attar told law enforcement that he had allowed Nagarwala to use his clinic up to six times annually to treat minors’ “genital rashes”; based on that information, Woodward said, 100 victims would be a conservative estimate.
The court yesterday approved the Attars’ release on house arrest, imposing stringent terms. The husband and wife had to surrender their passports, and they were placed on electronic tethers. They may leave the home only for court-approved legal and medical appointments, and they’re banned from using the Internet or text messaging. They are also prohibited from having visitors or communicating with anyone but their legal team and family members, according to an order setting the conditions of their release.
A U.S. magistrate judge had earlier denied the Attars’ bond request, adding that it was “common knowledge that the cutting of the genitalia of a 7-year-old child would be painful.”
Nagarwala, who was arrested at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport as she prepared for a flight to Nairobi, remains imprisoned until the October trial, deemed a flight risk.
All three of the accused are members of the Detroit-area Dawoodi Bohra community, an Indian sect of Shiite Islam that claims more than a million adherents worldwide. The group’s religious leader said last year that khatna, another term for female genital mutilation, “needs to be done.”
Before their arrest in April, the Attars did not respond to Heat Street’s multiple queries. A woman who answered the phone at Burhani Medical Clinic immediately hung up after hearing our interview request.
Mary Chartier, the lawyer representing Dr. Attar, told Heat Street in April that her client was “not aware of any crimes that were committed at his clinic.”
In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Chartier disputed Woodward’s claim that as many as 100 girls may have been subjected to female genital mutilation at Attar’s clinic.
“I think the government has overstated so many aspects of this case, and this is one more example of overreaching,” she said.
Defense lawyers have said that no female genital mutilation was performed, and that instead, Nagarwala benignly scraped the membrane around the clitoris as part of a constitutionally protected religious rite. Their defense is expected to rely heavily on religious freedom arguments.
But prosecutors say the procedure was much more brutal, harming the girls. According to the complaint, one of the seven-year-old girls said she was in so much pain “all the way down to her ankle” that she struggled to walk.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.