Sarah was 7 years old when her parents took her to visit their family in India. Born in Iowa and raised in California, Sarah remembers taking trips to see relatives abroad frequently. But this time was different.
“I wish it didn’t happen to me,” Sarah said, referring to an event that occurred on this specific trip. “I think the things that do stick out, the bits and pieces, are the parts that might traumatize you.” ABC News has changed Sarah’s name to protect her privacy.
That summer in Mumbai, Sarah, who is now in her 30s, remembers her mother taking her to a brown building where there were older women wearing saris. She remembers the women being friendly, but shortly after she arrived she was held down, and her skirt was lifted up.
“I remember feeling pain,” Sarah said. “I was crying, so I was scared during it because it hurt.”
That day Sarah underwent female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), which is the practice of cutting a woman’s genitals.
There are four types of FGM, according to the World Health Organization
(WHO). They range in severity, from removing parts of a woman’s genitals to sealing closed the vaginal opening, also known as infibulation. WHO classifies harmful procedures as ones involving piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the area.
FGM is often associated with Africa and some communities in the Middle East, Asia and South America. The orig
ins of FGM are unclear. But experts say the ancient practice is not officially linked to religion in any way. It’s done for a variety of reasons, with supporters saying it carries on tradition, protects a woman’s honor and ensures she will stay a virgin until marriage. In some places a woman can’t get married unless she has undergone the procedure.