Cut: Exposing FGM Worldwide (2017) - full transcript

Taking more than six years to complete, The Cut is a feature-length documentary that conclusively proves that female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM) can be found as a native practice on all inhabitable continents. From war zones in the Middle-East to bucolic Middle America, the film visits 14 countries and features key interviews with FGM survivors, activists, cutters, doctors and researchers to uncover an often secret practice shrouded in centuries of traditions, mysticisms and irrationalities.

[camera shutter clicks]

[Filsan] FGM is believed
to be practiced

across the board, um,

you know, African Muslims,
African Christians,

at one time, um,

Jewish Ethiopians,

and just native religions.

I remember exactly,
actually, that day,

like, I get goosebumps,
um, thinking about it.

Just that fear and stress

of knowing
that I was gonna be next.

I don't think I've ever
experienced pain to that level.

[Alex] Their main tool
is a razor blade.

How sharp is it?
Can she show us?

-[woman speaks foreign language]
-[Alex] Oh!

[John Chua] What if
the media's coverage of FGM

as an African or Muslim problem

has obscured its true
extent and nature?

My name is John Chua,
and for nearly a decade

I traveled the world
researching FGM practices.

My journey didn't start
in Africa,

the traditional
media focal point of FGM.

What if the practice touched
every part of the globe,

and was found in even
the most unlikely of places?

[Sarah] In states all across
the United States,

female circumcision
and clitoridectomy were used

in the 19th century
through the mid 20th century

to treat masturbation.

Well, I was seven years old

the day that I was cut
in Central London.

[John] What if there are more countries
outside Africa than inside Africa

where female genital cutting
is a native tradition?

This film examines
some of these countries,

15 of them
across six continents.

[John] My gender,
Chinese ethnicity,

and profession as a writer
of Russian animated movies,

make me an unlikely investigator
of this subject.

However, I am also
a university professor,

with interests in human behavior
across cultures,

religions, and continents.

But I didn't set out originally
to investigate FGM worldwide.

In reality, my journey

was both unexpected
and unplanned.

But once I began exploring
the puzzle that is FGM,

I knew I needed to uncover
the rest of the story.

This is a documentary
about my journey,

and it's my goal
to show that FGM

is not just an African or Muslim problem
but a global one,

one affecting people worldwide
to this very day,

including to my surprise,

my extended family and friends,

people I had known
for much of my life,

but whose stories
had remained unspoken.

Small and big communities
around the world

have their own
native cutting traditions.

People on every continent,
except Antarctica,

have cut to control their fears

of female sexuality.

[Renee] My mother took me
to a doctor,

who said,
"Well, I can fix that,"

and cut off my clitoris.

[Anne-Marie] And Type Four
is all other categories,

which can be
pulling or tugging,

or it could also be
cutting and lacerations

as I've seen done
in Northern Nigeria.

[John] Nearly a decade ago,
this project began

almost by accident

when I started
a voluntary program

training ordinary Iraqis

to be digital media producers,

and through my work there,
I met Iraqi activists

on a quest
to expose and end FGM

in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Thrust into a world
I knew very little about,

and compelled by the stories
I was hearing,

I ended up producing
a couple of their short films.

What I learned,

I would end up
seeing again and again

throughout my travels.

The initial reaction to FGM

is often disbelief and denial.

[John] In reality, we found

that in some districts
of Kurdistan,

FGM was almost universal.

The explanations for FGM
are often irrational.

[John] FGM is sometimes found
in difficult to access regions.

Whether because of war,
hostile cultures,

or extremely
conservative societies

where other violations
against women

are commonly found,

the results, however,
are the same.

These are places where few visitors
risk asking questions.

[John] With help and education,

entire communities
can be persuaded

to stop their cutting practices.

In Iraqi Kurdistan,

the story became a positive one.

The scale of FGM was shocking,

but with the help
of local activists

and media campaigns,

attitudes were changed,

and a new anti-FGM law
was passed

in the Kurdish provinces.

Within less than a decade,

the majority of Kurds in Iraq

turned against FGM.

[John] Sadly, this was not
the success I saw everywhere.

Turning my attention
in Iraq south, to Baghdad,

what I experienced there
was chaos.

Shiite Muslims against Sunnis,

tribe against tribe,

neighbor fighting neighbor.

Conventional wisdom told me

that outside Africa,

FGM is found mostly among
the Sunnis,

especially Sunnis
of the Shafi'i school.

But here I discovered
something very different

leading me to
another important FGM lesson:

Never fully trust
conventional wisdom.

Dr. Maha Al-Sakban

is one of the heroes
exposing FGM

in the Shiite dominated regions
south of Baghdad.

[Maha] We used to
think that, uh,

FGM is prevalent
only in Kurdistan

and is not prevalent
in our area.

In the middle
and south part of Iraq,

I selected two provinces,

Al-Qadisiyah and Wasat.

From each province
we took a sample of 500 women.

[John] In more recent years,

a trend also began
for older Muslim women

to undergo FGM.

[Maha] But now, elderly women,

they go willing to doctors

and they ask them
to do it for them,

either for cosmetics or because
they want to go to Hajj.

And they think
that to go to Hajj,

they need to be clean.

[John] And then,
there's also ISIS.

The UN has confirmed that
militant Islamist group ISIS

has ordered all women
and girls in Mosul

to undergo
female genital mutilation.

UN official Jacqueline Badcock

said the fatwa,
or religious law,

applies to females
between the ages of 11 and 46.

[newswoman] News from Mosul
has largely been dictated

by the so-called Islamic State
or "DAESH" in Arabic.

The suppression of women

is central to IS ideology.

They can't leave their homes
without a male relative.

[John] Soon after
the UN statement appeared,

some commentators claimed
that the whole story was a hoax.

So we tried to find out
for ourselves.

But at this point, it was
impossible to get into Mosul,

a city of certain death
for outsiders.

The closest we made it
was this road, controlled
by Islamic State,

where we could see trucks
delivering supplies

from ISIS controlled
territories in Syria.

[John] What I was
beginning to learn,

was that the question
of where FGM occurs,

is almost as controversial

and surrounded by half-truths

as the practice itself.

This 2016 article
citing UNICEF states:

"The practice of FGM

"is mostly limited
to Central Africa.

"It's not common
in Morocco or Algeria

"or Libya or Saudi Arabia

or Oman or Jordan
or Syria or Iran."

[John] But after
what I learned in Iraq,

for me, the statement
rang false.

Clearly, my journey
would take me
in a different direction.

[rhythmic drums,
instruments playing]


Iran, I knew this would not be
an easy place to film.

Independent documentary
filmmaking is not allowed.

But is it really true
that FGM is not common there?

Although Iranians are
predominantly Shiite Muslims,

there are also significant
Sunni and Kurdish communities.

[John] The Balochis
are an ethnic group

of almost 10 million people

that inhabit an area
stretching from Iran,

through to Afghanistan,
and into Pakistan.

I found myself asking,

how big could this problem
really be?

And just how many pieces of
this FGM puzzle are there?

You will have heard little
about female genital cutting

in Oman.

Research there
has been nearly impossible

without government approval.

But two activists,
one from the north,

the other from the south,

have been quietly
gathering data

under very difficult

And I was lucky enough
to interview them.

[John] In the south,
what has your research
been mostly about?

[John] What were the numbers
that you may have found in the north?

[John] My investigation
would not be complete

without exploring
the center of Islam,
Saudi Arabia.

There, it seems
that FGM is not found
among the mainstream Saudis.

However, it exists
among the vast number
of immigrant workers

brought in
to keep the country running,

amounting to 30%
of the population of Saudi Arabia.

They come from other parts
of the Middle East,

Africa, and Asia.

Additionally, FGM is also found

among some of
the more traditional Arabs

in the southern part
of the kingdom.

[John] One prominent cleric
with millions of followers

once declared FGM
a "noble act,"

but later, Dr. Rouzi
met with him

to change his mind
with medical evidence.

In an extraordinary
turn of events,

Sheikh Alarefe issued
a retraction on video,

withdrawing his support
for female circumcision.

[John] This story
in Saudi Arabia

taught me Islamic clerics

can also play a role
in ending FGM.

Leaving the Middle East,

my journey took me home
to Southeast Asia.

In recent years,
the issue of FGM

in Southeast Asia
started appearing in the news,

with reports of the practice
in Indonesia,

the world's most populous
Muslim country.

[newswoman] The Indonesians call this
female circumcision.

The UN and
the World Health Organization

call it
female genital mutilation.

[John] But the scale
of the issue in the region
has not fully been exposed.

It appears in small and large
Muslim communities
across the entire region,

and while I focus
my investigations of FGM
in Southeast Asia,

on Malaysia, Singapore
and Thailand,

by chance, I also had
a conversation
with Cambodian Chams,

an ethnic group many people
don't know much about.

[John] While I appear
to be the first researcher

to document FGM
among the Chams today,

to fully understand
this piece of the puzzle,

more research
on the Chams is needed.

Meanwhile, the struggle

between those for
and against FGM

rages on in Malaysia.

[John] Muslims who
advocate for FGM

rely on the Hadiths,
or purported sayings

of the Prophet Muhammad,
written two centuries
after his death.

But some Muslims
consider the Hadiths

mentioning female circumcision

to be weak, unreliable
or inauthentic.

[John] The Malaysian National
Fatwa Council takes

a very conservative position
regarding female circumcision.

In reality, within Sunni Islam
across the world,

not all of the various schools
of jurisprudence

or interpretations
agree that FGM is needed.

It's also done to grown women,
you know.

Women who have embraced Islam,
for example,

and consider that they need
to clean themselves,

they are also circumcised
or cut.

And imagine the kind of trauma
that happens

with regards to a grown woman
being subjected to the cutting.

The clitoris
itself is removed,
up to 1.5 centimeters.

There's even a measurement,
a standard that's used
by traditional practitioners.

[John] And then you run
into the danger of
cutting the clitoris also?

[John] In Malaysia, as in
many of the countries I visited,

I found that supporters of FGM

often had misunderstandings
of the human body.

In multicultural Malaysia,

FGM can be found among Muslims

of all races and ethnicities.

So I don't really
identify myself

as being part of a particular
racial group

because I am a mix
of Malay, Chinese,

and Serani.

And also a bit of, uh,
heritage from Burmese.

I wasn't aware
I was circumcised,

partly because I was a baby
back then.

When I knew it, I asked my mom.

She said that it is partly
required under Islam.

But she couldn't
pinpoint exactly, like,

how it is being written

explicitly that it is required
under Islam.

Because of the religion,

there's some sort of, like,
underlying reason

that, you know,
female is a sexual being,

so their sexual desires
need to be curbed.

It's something that is
seldom being discussed

even among Malay women.

So I don't think
even if they have problems,

I don't think
they would reveal it.

When you ask me, whether I know

or do I see the difference
between myself

and a woman not circumcised,

I couldn't give the answer
because I do not know.

[John] FGM is also found
among Muslim minorities

in Singapore,

one of the world's richest

and most technologically
advanced countries.

Singapore is also
where I was born

and where I spent my childhood.

Although I was raised Christian,

my own extended family
and friends

who grew up as Muslims,

were almost certainly
impacted by FGM.

Here, as in elsewhere,
most people feel uncomfortable

talking about the practice.

On a recent return
to Singapore,

I reached out to someone

I had known for
most of my life,

but who had never spoken to me
about her horror story
of being cut.

[John] In Singapore,
a government agency

has even advocated
female circumcision

for its Muslim citizens,
and until recently,

the following statement appeared
on the website

of the Islamic Religious
Council of Singapore:

[woman reading]

[John] In the first study
of its kind,

I surveyed 119 Muslim women
in Singapore.

85 of them had been cut,

and a quarter of them said
they would continue
the practice,

but many also voiced their
strong opinions against it.

Those who contacted me
said things such as...

[woman] "Because
my clitoral hood is gone,

"this means that my clitoris
might have been desensitized,

"and so I should actually be
able to experience

"more sexual pleasure
than currently,

but I will never know."

[John] Also, not all mothers

who took their daughters
to a doctor in Singapore

for circumcision were happy
with the results.

One wrote online...

[woman] "I noticed that there
was something dangling...
to my horror,

"seems like that the labia
was cut on the top
and it's blue black.

"Went back to doctor...

"when she saw the cut,

"she kept saying
that it's the labia.

"She claimed the labia
might reattach.

"Then, before I got out the

"she admitted
she might have cut too much

and apologized."

[John] Recently, rumors swirled
about British parents

bringing daughters
to Singaporean medical clinics

for circumcision,
but when we called the clinics,

they all said that they would
not cut a British child.

But I had to find out
for myself.

[father] I bought her back
from America.

We were living in America.
She was born in America.

It is not too late?


[John] In Iraq, I learned
that FGM flourishes

in hard-to-reach regions,

and in southern Thailand,
this was no different.

The Muslim Pattanis

fought against Thai rule
for decades,

and according to experts,
it is the deadliest war zone

in East Asia.

The hotel I stayed in
was previously twice bombed
by insurgents.

What does that mean?

I'm Dr. Patimoh.

I use my finger,

like this.

This clitoris, okay?

Clitoris like this, okay?

Only tip. Tip of this.

Puncture wound. Small.

Oh, this is, uh,
Pattani Islamic Pharmacy.

[John] In a remote village,
I found a former midwife
willing to talk.

[John] Oh, yes?

Has there been
any requests recently?

[speaking Malay]

Oh, okay.

[Mariya] As an English person,
a British person,

I underwent this,
and I know a lot of my friends

who also have undergone this.

When people say
that FGM unhooding
is no big deal,

I want to tell them my story
of how it was done to me.

[John] The Dawoodi Bohras are
a South Asian Shia Muslim sect

numbering about
a million members.

They are predominantly
in India,

although migration
has spread this community

across the world.

It seemed that my journey was
taking me all over the world,

but it also took me
to familiar places.

Um, so, I am one-quarter English

and three-quarters Bohra.

When I was a child
of about seven years old,

um, I remember one day
my grandmother told me

that she's taking me out.

Um, and going out with
grandmother was always good

because she would
buy something.

She offered me
some chocolates and candies.

So I was seven years old
the day that I was cut.

Um, and I remember going with

two family members
and my cousin.

And, um, I gladly went with her.

I lived in the city of Mumbai.

I was born and raised
in London.

Um, I lived in the US
for a couple of years.

She took me to this area
called Bhendi Bazaar,

which is a large Bohra area

where largely
the Bohra community lives.

And we went to a council estate

in North Central London.

And it was a very small flat,

um, and there was an old lady
that answered the door.

And she took me
to one building

which was a dark,
dingy apartment house.

There was another old lady
in the room.

And so went in

and one of my relatives told me
to take off my underwear.

And I remember, at the time,

not feeling comfortable
with doing that.

But as it was somebody
I trusted,

I went along with it.

I was a little worried
and a little scared

as to where is my grandmother
taking me.

Because the room looked
really apprehensive

and, you know, dark.

And grandmother just held
on to my hand and said,

"It's okay, come inside."

And inside she took me
into a room

and that lady drew a curtain.

And I saw the old lady
take a knife

um, and put the stove on,

and actually just heat the knife
over the flame on the stove.

And I was, you know, sobbing,

but grandmother gently nudged me

and told me to lie down.

And she held on to my hands

and she told me, "This will
just take a moment,

"and nothing will happen
to you.

There'll be a little bit
of pain, but you'll be fine."

And I was told
to spread my legs,

um, and that's when she cut me.

Uh, this woman
pulled my pants down,

without even
telling me anything,

and with some instrument,

which was a blade or a razor,
I don't know,

because I was lying flat
and I was crying,

she cut something.

And there was a sharp,
shooting pain,

and I started screaming
and crying very loudly.

But more than pain, I remember

an incredible amount of blood.

Um, and to this day,
I still have a phobia of blood

because of that incident.

[Massoma] She made me
wear my pants and told me,

"You're done,
now you can go home."

And I was totally traumatized.

I just went home
and just started crying

in front of my mother.

There was a lot of pain
which was there

because a very sensitive part
of me had been cut.

And for the next
eight to ten days,

I had tremendous pain
while passing urine.

A family friend of mine,

um, a male family friend

wanted to get married
to an American lady.

Um, and the community insisted

that before they perform
the wedding ceremony,

this lady, who was going
to convert into the Bohra faith,

um, be cut and FGM
be performed on her as well.

FGM happens all over the world,

uh, from different
social backgrounds,
different classes.

Um, after year 10,
I moved to America

and I finished
my high school over there.

And then I moved back
to England,

and I work for a major
American investment bank.

I've worked there
for nine years now.

So I've heard from some sources

that this actually
is still performed in England.

And, in fact, it's performed

actually on the premises
of the mosque.

Um, recently though
I have to say

that the local community leaders

have issued a letter,

uh, saying that it shouldn't be
performed in England,

and that it's illegal.

But up until recently,

I've heard that it has been
performed here.

But I know of women
who have no medical background,

um, but are elder,

who have performed
this on children.

[John] In the UK,
FGM has been illegal since 1985,

but no one yet has been
convicted of the crime.

In Australia, FGM has also been
reported in the Bohra community.

Unlike in the UK, however,

the Australian Bohras have not
been able to escape justice.

A brutal crime under the guise
of a cultural custom

is taking place in Australia.

Female genital mutilation
is a crime in Australia

and it's not sanctioned
in the Koran.

Police made a breakthrough,

arresting and charging
eight people

with the alleged
genital mutilation

of two young girls
in Sydney and Wollongong.

It's also common
for the women doing the cutting

to charge a fee
for their services.

[Imam] The figure could be
as much as

two to three thousand
[Australian] dollars.

Uh, it is a very
clandestine practice.

The eight people arrested

all belong to
the Dawoodi Bohra community

in New South Wales.

The reality is that they are
not qualified at all.

These are women
from a village

who have now migrated,
for example, to Australia,

uh, who have, you know,
access to a razor blade.

[John] Australia has
a special significance to me.

Although I don't live there,

Australia's where my immediate
family members emigrated to.

Australia has been quick
to point to immigrants

as the perpetrators of FGM.

But I found that the connection
between FGM and immigrants

was not the whole story.

Walter Roth, a British doctor

assigned to
the Australian Outback

in the late 19th century,

published in 1897, a report

on the Northwest Central
Queensland Aborigines.

[male narrator]
"Among the Pitta-Pitta
and neighboring tribes,

"a young girl when she first
begins to show signs of puberty,

"two or three men
get the young woman,

"throwing her down,

"one of them forcibly
enlarges the vaginal orifice.

"The actual operator,

"sitting astride
the woman's chest and neck,

"cuts with a stone knife
into the perineum

"downwards and forwards,

"turning the implement
slightly upwards

"at the close of the incision.

"Other men come forward
from all directions,

"and the struggling victim
has to submit in rotation

"to promiscuous coition
with all the bucks present.

"Should any sick individual
be in camp,

"he would drink
the bloody semen

"collected from her

"There is no doubt,

"especially with
the use of the stone knife,

"that the perineum itself
is actually lacerated and cut,

"i.e. more or less ruptured.

"I have had dozens
of opportunities

"for making
suitable examination

"in cases of venereal disease

and verifying the fact."

[John] Some people today
might find his report

hard to believe.

But his descriptions
and illustrations

of the cutting
of male genitals

are arguably factual.

[male narrator] "The man on top
holds the penis firm
and tense with both hands.

"A deeper incision is next made
with the same stone knife

"along the same line
as the first,

"and starting from
the external orifice,

"opens up the canal
as it is pushed onwards,

"opening up almost
the whole of the penis.

"I have designedly introduced
the term 'introcision,'

"because of,
and so as to include,

the corresponding mutilation
of the females."

[John] While there are
other unverified reports

that FGM is
a native practice

found in the
Northern Territory of Australia,

it is unclear if
female genital cutting

among aborigines still exists,

but male genital cutting does.

Mutilation of the penis
can still be found

among some of
Australia's aborigines.

Clearly, old traditions
survive into the modern world,

and this suggests
that FGM in Australia

requires further research.

With my experience of
living and working in Russia,

I was curious about
the FGM puzzle there.

There are more Muslims
in Russia

than in any other
European country,

but FGM is not found
among most Russian Muslims.

It does exist in the Muslim
areas of the Russian Caucasus,

and this project
would not be complete

without investigating Dagestan.

[John] A center
of militant Islam,

Dagestan was dubbed the most
dangerous place in Europe

by the BBC.

It sits on the western edge
of the Caspian Sea,

and there, yet again,

I initially found only denial.

In your e-mail to me
you mentioned that

this female circumcision
here is a myth.

[John] After an NGO called
Russian Justice Initiative

published a report
about the nature

and extent of FGM in Dagestan,

Mufti Ismail Berdiyev,

a member of
the Russian Presidential Council

for Cooperation with
Religious Associations,

caused a storm of controversy

by defending
female circumcision,

recommending the procedure
to all women.

[John] We began
with a phone call

to a gynecologist
in Makhachkala.

[Hadizhat] Hello?

[John] Later, I got an interview
with Dr. Azhubova,

but she did not
want her face to be shown.


[John] Dagestani native,
Svetlana Anokhina,

writes for the
publication "Daptar."

She has long been exposing

the deplorable situation
in the Caucasus,

and in our call, she describes
a much darker picture

than that portrayed
by Dr. Azhubova,

with primitive instruments
being used

and rumors of a girl dying
from blood poisoning after FGM.

[John] Given Svetlana's
knowledge and expertise,

I just had to meet her.

As I found elsewhere,
where there's FGM,

other human rights violation
against women

might also be found.

[John] But why doesn't
the law prevent honor killing,

incest, female genital cutting,

and other violations
against women?

[John] In Russia,
a number of journalists

who reported on the Caucasus

and have been
critical of the situation

have been assassinated.

[John] Once again,
FGM is obscured

by violence
and political problems.

Dagestan is also
a major exporter

of jihadists to Syria,

fighting for Islamic State,

which operates
on the basis of Salafism,

to apocalyptic beliefs

about the end
of the known world.

[John] The week
before we arrived,

ISIS claimed responsibility
for a roadside bomb,

which killed ten police officers
near the airport.

This is not the first time

apocalyptic cults
have been linked to FGM.

But this extraordinary story
from Russia's past

is far removed from the one
linked to Islam.

For over 150 years,

a breakaway Russian
Orthodox Christian sect,
the Skoptsy,

believed in extreme forms
of genital cutting,

while awaiting the apocalypse.

Renouncing sex entirely

while awaiting
the Second Coming of Christ,

the now largely
forgotten sect,

reportedly had
more than 100,000 members

by the early 20th century.

Skoptsy can be translated
as "the castrated one."

cut off their sex organs,

either only the testicles

or often the entire penis
as well.

They were literally following
the scripture in the Bible

which describes
how some chose castration

as a path to heaven.

I conducted an online interview
with the foremost expert

on the Skoptsy in Russia.

"And there are eunuchs

"who have made themselves

for the sake of the kingdom
of heaven."

[John] Both the czarist
and Soviet governments

were horrified by the sect,

persecuting them intensely.

In one of the archives
of Moscow,

I found a copy of the report

commissioned by
the czarist government

to study the Skoptsy.

[John] It contains one of
the earliest description

by a European doctor
of Type Three FGM.

For the women,
in the first stage,

they cut only the nipples,

and in the second stage,
the entire breast.

Yet for some women, they cut
the clitoris and the labia,

with the subsequent healing
of the wound

partly sealing the vagina.

[John] The Skoptsy showed
that the human desire

for genital cutting,

as well as the fear of sex
and female sexuality

could suggest
a sort of collective madness,

which is not exclusive
to one ethnic group or religion.

By now, it was clear to me
that this was no longer

just an Africa, or even
an African and Muslim problem.

The pieces of the FGM puzzle

were taking me to places
I had never expected

and to every corner
of the Earth.

Colombia, South America.

Certainly not the first place
one thinks of

when the term FGM
comes up.

But here too, it is found.

[John] The Emberas live
in difficult terrain,

stretching beyond Colombia

from Panama to Ecuador.

But now, their stories
are beginning to be told.

For many decades,
they were caught

in the middle of a war zone,

with government forces
on one side,

and narco producers

and armed rebels
on the other side.

Yet again, FGM exists
in areas of violence.

[John] There are no laws

specifically against FGM
in Colombia,

effectively tying the hands
of prosecutors,

but during his long career
as a state prosecutor,

Victor Martinez
learned of the existence of FGM

among the many
indigenous tribes of Colombia.

[John] Experts have tried
to explain FGM in Colombia

as "coming out of Africa."

Even the media
has picked up on this.

[John] My interviews
got me questioning

how African slaves
could have introduced FGM

to so many indigenous tribes

across such a wide area
of Colombia,

and even into other parts
of Latin America.

More importantly, there's proof

that the practice
dates back centuries,

to the pre-Columbian era.

I found that proof, in Peru.

There are positive stories
in the fight against FGM.

Stories like my experience
in Iraqi Kurdistan,

of communities embracing change

and fighting the practice.

Another such story
is about the Peruvian Shipibo.

It is a story that tells
of how FGM

had been going on
for centuries,

long before the arrival
of African slaves.

And yet, slowly
yielding to pressure

from Peruvian society
and Christian missionaries,

this practice has now died out.

The Shipibo performed FGM

during their Ani Xeati
puberty festivals,

lasting several days.

[Shaman singing initiation song]

It's a delicate issue.

I mean, they do not talk
about this freely with anyone.

But, uh, they talk about this

with their daughters,
for example.

Yeah, I wasn't going
to tell you this,

but since I will after all,

they only cut the clitoris.

Anthropologist Carolyn Heath

lived among the Shipibo
for nearly 13 years,

and when I met her in Oxford,
at the end of our interview,

she mentioned two Shipibo women
we should talk to,

Kayla Roxas and Sara Flores,

who could be willing to talk.

She did not have
their contact information,

but her suggestion was enough
to take me to Peru.

And in a section
of the Peruvian Amazon

of about 300,000 people,

I went door-to-door
knocking on Shipibo shops

to try to locate them.

[woman] Uh-huh.

About six months or a year

before the fiesta took place,

they would send out invitations

by word of mouth to...

family and friends
in all the different villages.

They would do this by

sending people out
in canoes with drums.

And they would go
from village to village.

When everybody was
very, very drunk,

they would actually hold
the circumcision ceremony.

[Carolyn] Yes, this was
supposed to attenuate

uh, these animal instincts,

the circumcision, generally.

And the circumcision

would be carried out
by the godmother

using a knife

made from parka bamboo.
Very, very sharp.

They never felt a thing
at the time

because they'd had
so much alcohol to drink.

[indistinct chatter in Spanish]

And, uh, my own interpretation

is that has to do with, uh,

ethnic identity and to become

a real, complete woman.

[John] The xebinantis,
worn by freshly cut females

to help seal their wounds,

have been radiocarbon dated

to a time before
the arrival of Columbus

and African slaves.

FGM, it seems, is native
to South America after all.

Why then did such
an ancient practice die out?

Oscar Espinosa thinks

it was the end of isolation
among the Shipibo

that slowly eradicated
the practice.

It disappeared
mostly because of, uh,

I think, pressure of
other Peruvian people,

or the churches,
different, uh,
churches in the region,

uh, for whom these kind of, uh,

rituals, especially the, uh,

the, um, the cutting
of the female genitalia

would mean like savage customs.

[John] But that doesn't mean
FGM vanished everywhere.

The more I looked,
the more clues I found

that FGM exists among
many other indigenous people

of Latin America.

[Oscar] There are
Brazilian Kaxinawa

and Peruvian Kaxinawa.

There are some references,
especially among the Kaxinawa,

there are some
references of, uh,

similar customs
of cutting the female genitalia.

And probably also among
other Pano groups

in the Amazon region
between Peru and Brazil.

[John] Africa, the Middle East,
Asia, Europe,

and now South America.

FGM is a global problem,

emerging in different countries

at different times,

and often independently
of each other.

When I first began,
I had no idea that over
and over again,

I would see similar situations

to the ones I saw in Iraq

on every continent
except Antarctica.

But what about
the United States?

Could the mad urge
to control sexuality,

female sexuality,
also have a tradition there?

As my journey
reached its final stage,

I realized that it did,
involving, at its heart,

a name well known to all of us
from our breakfast table.

FGM has a long
and forgotten history in the US.

From the 1860s to the 1960s,

some Christian doctors
and parents

female genital cutting

to prevent girls
from masturbating.

It is a piece of history
that many Americans

would now prefer to forget.

A leading proponent
of removing the clitoris

to prevent masturbation,
was Dr. John Kellogg,

the inventor of Corn Flakes.

In his book, he advocated
burning the clitoris with acid

or removing it entirely
as a cure for masturbation.

When I was three years old,

my mother was concerned
about the fact

that I was masturbating,

said she had read someplace
that it was the ultimate sin.

Took me to a doctor
in a clinic in North Dakota,

who took me into a hospital
in Minnesota
and removed my clitoris.

That was 22 years ago.

And I didn't even know
that it was videotaped.

[John] Back in 1994,
Renee wanted
to remain anonymous.

She was not a scheduled speaker
and her talk was spontaneous
and unplanned.

The only clue to find her
was the name
of the meeting itself.

I contacted anyone I could find
who was there,

and amazingly someone
remembered her name.

After several months
of searching,
I managed to meet her

and convinced her to go public
with her full story.

[Renee] And I didn't even know
it existed.

Then Dr. Chua

also found this video.

And so, it's just really
quite amazing to me

that it has been out there
for over 20 years,

and I didn't...

And there has been
no response to it, until now.

In my research, I started
really in the 1860s,

um, looking at when
female circumcision

and clitoridectomy was used
to treat masturbation.

Um, and I started then
because that's really when

medical journal publications
really started to proliferate

in the United States,

and so you start actually
seeing published cases

of the use of
female circumcision

or clitoridectomy
to treat masturbation

during the mid 19th
century period.

I was three years old
when it happened to me.

Um, my mother was concerned
that I was masturbating

and my little face
turned very red.

So she took me to a doctor,

um, who said,
"Well, I can fix that,"

and cut off my clitoris.

I remember...

the pain.

I remember seeing my mother
at the end of the table.

She said that she held me

and walked the hospital floors

until I quit crying.

As I was growing older,

she told me she knew
it was a mistake

and that I was not supposed
to ever talk about it.

Kellogg's Corn Flakes
was created,

somehow and advertised

as being able
to stop masturbation.

And my mother

if she caught me as I was
growing older would say,

"Stop that,
it will make you insane."

A lot of Americans don't know

about this particular type
of history,

this practice within
the United States historically,

um, is because it was
a quick procedure,

and it was done
in a physician's office.

And, also, because probably
it wasn't something

that families
probably really talked about

amongst themselves either,

largely because of
the reasons it was done.

[John] John Kellogg was
not the only physician

advocating this practice.

Well into the mid 20th century,

the mindset continued to linger.

Dr. Harold Shryock
was a prominent member

of the Seventh Day
Adventist Church

and the dean of Loma Linda
University medical school,

a well-known education
and research institution

associated with
the Adventist Church.

Today, the Church
plays a major role against FGM,

as evident in their campaigns

and medical treatments
for survivors.

But back in 1951,

Shryock published the book
"On Becoming a Woman."

Still available as
an e-book on Amazon

and on the Seventh Day
Adventist website,

the text recommends
female circumcision

as a prevention
for masturbation.

I had this
uncomfortable tugging

in my genital area.

And when I got
my driver's license at age 15,

I went up to the clinic

and said, "Some stupid doctor
did this to me

and now I'm really

And this was a Seventh Day
Adventist clinic.

And the doctor gave me a book
on the sin of self-pleasuring.

[John] Ultimately,
the Adventists

were not the only Christians
of that era

who believed in
female genital cutting.

But there now seems to be
a collective amnesia

that prominent American doctors

such as Kellogg and Shryock

had advocated for FGM
at one time.

He actually advocated
the use of circumcision

or the cutting
of female genitals.

I did not know that.

-No? It's in his books.
-I've never--

-Um, yeah.
-Is that true?

It's in his books.

Well, now there's a subject
to go back and look at.

[female narrator]
"When masturbation
becomes a habit,

"she adopts an attitude
of stupidity.

"The remedy consists of
a minor surgical operation

spoken of as circumcision."

I am surprised by that,
but I can tell you for sure

the official position
of the Church today

would be totally against that.

I don't know that anybody reads
Harold Shryock today.

That doesn't have anything to do
with who we are today.

So female circumcision
and clitoridectomy

were used in the 19th century
through the mid 20th century

to treat masturbation.

And in the 19th century,
masturbation was believed

to necessitate treatment

because it was seen as being
debilitating to the body.

[John] The number
of women in America

who were cut
and are still alive today
is unknown.

So in the 1960s,

was the last published case
of a physician

referring to the use
of clitoridectomy

to treat masturbation.

I was about three years old
probably at that time.

I have a very vivid memory
of the experience.

I was in a bed
with crib bars on it.

I remember standing
and being very frightened,

not knowing what's going on,

but feeling that something
terrible was about to happen.

And I remember being
laid down in a room.

I can remember people
talking to me,

coaxing me
through the procedure.

And then I remember
this excruciating pain,

as my clitoris was pulled
from my body and removed.

[Renee] The most dangerous
ramification of genital cutting

is difficulty giving birth.

My scar did not stretch.

So my first child was in danger

of becoming stuck
in the birth canal.

I've had
an extensive episiotomy.

And a couple of months
after the birth

I came back to my doctor,

saying, "I'm not healing."

This is a challenge for doctors

who are not expecting
this complication.

Without medical intervention,

I, like many mutilated women,

could have died in childbirth.

I get asked often how common
female circumcision

or clitoridectomy was practiced
in the United States.

And I would to say...
What I always say to people is,

it's not... It was never rare,

but it also wasn't common.

The fact that
it was performed, um,

in states all across
the United States,

and I know that
from where the physicians

were publishing about it,

what I always tell people again

is it wasn't rare
but it wasn't common.

It was kind of in-between there.

Where did American physicians

learn about female circumcision,

Um, from what I can tell,

they would have
gotten information

most likely from
British medical journals.

Uh, because
British medical journals

were publishing
about the procedure

in the earlier 19th century

and American physicians
would have read

about the procedures from there.

That's at least
the one source

that I can identify
through text of saying--

This... There's a...

This is how physicians

would have
probably learned about it,

would be from the
British publications about it.

One of the most
notorious practitioners

of female circumcision,
or rather clitoridectomy,

he just performed

was Isaac Baker Brown,

who was a British physician,

who in the 1860s,

the British medical press
published a lot about it,

because he was charged
with performing

the operation too commonly.

[John] Dr. Isaac Baker Brown

was a prominent
19th century gynecologist

who was also the president of
the Medical Society of London.

He operated and practiced
in Connaught Square,

in Central London.

There, he advocated
cutting off the clitoris

to cure insanity, epilepsy,

and a number of other illnesses.

There was an idea
physicians had,

particularly in the 19th
through the early 20th century,

that the sort of clitoris size
indicated, um...

could indicate
to them masturbation

or what they would have deemed
as homosexual behavior

or that that also
a larger clitoris

was sort of deemed
with hypersexuality.

Certain bodies,
particularly bodies, um,

of women of color,

were seen as being
inherently hypersexual.

This idea goes back, though,

to that they could read
the body by looking at it,

and that the clitoris
would sort of tell them,

and one of the ways
that it was sort of believed

to be seen on the body,
there was an expectation

that the body would manifest
itself of hypersexuality,

through this sort of
elongated or enlarged clitoris.

[John] My journey took me from
the deserts of the Middle East,

to the streets of America.

But still, I wondered, is FGM
still occurring in the US today?

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala

is charged with
genital mutilation,

conspiracy and lying
to federal agents,

facing up to life in prison
at this point.

[newsman] One girl,
said it was done,

"Get the germs out."

The other girl said
she screamed,

got a shot, and it was so bad,

she "felt pain down
to her ankle,"

according to court documents.

There are cases
where families think it's safer

to take their child to a clinic
to get cut.

There is a large
Somali community in Minnesota.

A lot of times when parents
are taking their kids

during the off months
from school,

um, either back home
to Somalia

or to different
Middle Eastern countries,

um, like Dubai or Egypt,

and they're taking
their kids to get cut.

And just this last week
there was an Egyptian young lady

who passed away due to
female genital cutting.

[John] But some activists
point out,

not all FGM is illegal

or being carried out
in secret locations.

Shocking as it may seem,

some critics alleged
that FGM exists

in the beauty industry.

Because by the World Health
Organization's definition,

it does, but is that really FGM?

I am a board certified
plastic surgeon.

I'm also a Fellow of the
American College of Surgeons.

My concern is that in
the practice of what I perform,

the World Health Organization,

which includes
the United States,

is stating that what I perform

is female genital mutilation,
and it's not.

Essentially, let's talk about
clitoral hood reduction.

I am removing a portion
of the redundant skin,

from the clitoral hood,

which is the fleshy skin part

that covers the clitoris,
and reducing that.

Now by definition,
that would be a [Type] 1A.

In the other parts, any of those
including Type 2A,

where I am cutting, trimming,
reducing the labia minora,

would fall into a 2A.

And Type 4,

I'm saying
that's anybody who goes

to a tattoo parlor right now

and gets
a clitoral hood piercing,

tattoos, ornamentation,


laser hair removal,

which is a form
of cauterization.

Social attitudes
regarding, um, FGM

is really interesting,
because on the one hand,

you can have a female
who gets vaginal piercings

or tattoos or what have you,

and that is viewed
as really cool.

Where, on the other hand,
you can have a female,

um, who has been circumcised,

and there is a stigma
that follows it.

Um, it's really hard
to understand

why one is attached to a stigma

and the other one
is viewed as cool.

As the standards get higher,

people become
increasingly more self-critical

of what perfection is.

And they're seeking
that perfection.

The problem is
that there is no standard.

The only understanding,
I guess, or explanation

that could be
attached to this

is cultural prejudice.

I'm saying this
because I'm against FGM.

I don't want anybody to think
that I'm supporting FGM

in any way or shape or form.

I'm just giving you perspective.

One effect of the mutilation

that continued for 50 years

was the scar tissue, um...

causing a tugging sensation,

that did not stop
until menopause,

and my scar tore apart.

It was a painful experience,

and I think about women
throughout the world,

whose scars were

much more intense and, uh,

extensive than mine,

and wonder what
their experiences have been

with the discomfort,
the ongoing discomfort.


And this makes me very sad.

[Filsan] Our backgrounds
are completely different,

we come from two different parts
of the world,

yet we share something
that's very intimate,

and we've been through
that experience together.

So there's a level
of understanding between us.

Um, and I think
it's really important

for people to know
that this does not affect

just one community
or one religion

or one group of people.

It's something that happens
around the world.

And for me, meeting Filsan
has meant, um...

I can discuss things

that I couldn't discuss
with my friends or my family

who haven't experienced it.

But we can share this at, um...

the emotional level,
as well as the cognitive level

of what it has meant.

This is not my shame.

The shame belongs
to our culture,

the medical profession, um...

and I no longer, um...

feel that I need to stay silent.