“America is the home of the brave and the land of the free. When people seek haven in America, they can be assured that they can be free from the oppression that they are escaping from.  This oppression also includes female genital mutilation.” — Mary Franson, Minnesota state representative

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and there is one type of violence that too many Americans — including lawmakers — aren’t aware of or don’t recognize as a real threat to women and girls in this country. Female genital mutilation (FGM), the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons, as defined by the World Health Organization, is happening in the United States and putting American girls at risk.

As the World Health Organization details, there are no health benefits to FGM, it is traumatic for young girls to undergo, and it is not a religious practice. It is simply an intolerable violation of the human rights of young women and girls. Clearly, this is violence against women at its worst, and young women and girls in the United States deserve to be protected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 513,000 women and girls in the United States have experienced or are at risk of FGM. This number approximately doubled between 2000 and 2014. Just last year, a judge dismissed a case that had been brought against Michigan doctors for performing this procedure on multiple young girls.

We simply cannot ignore this growing threat. While the federal government should do its part by including FGM efforts in the Violence Against Women Act, our governors and state legislators also need to step up and push to protect some of their most vulnerable people.

At a minimum, every state should specifically outlaw the practice of FGM. For most people, it is shocking this has not been done. Right now, only 35 states have FGM laws on their books. There is no reason all 50 states shouldn’t have these protections available to their young women and girls.

For instance, in Kentucky, according to the CDC, almost 2,000 young women and girls are at risk of undergoing FGM. They have no state protection. Unfortunately, that’s also the case in Indiana, Washington, Wyoming, Alabama, Minnesota and others.  This is simply unacceptable in the United States of 2019.

In New Mexico, Governor Michelle Grisham has publicly stated her commitment to focusing on children while in office and has reintroduced the New Mexico Children’s Cabinet. Grisham should start by protecting the young female children from this most horrific form of violence.

In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker and his administration recently launched a public awareness campaign related to preventing sexual assault and domestic violence. Campaign spots will be on YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. A similar and as worthy effort could be made regarding awareness of FGM.

During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we focus on efforts to combat violence against women, raise awareness about these crimes and stand with survivors in the fight to end violence against women. Governors and state legislators can send a clear message to all communities this kind of violence against women has no place in our society.

Our nation’s governors need to act now.