Detroit doctor charged in 1st use of statute criminalizing female genital mutilation, DOJ says

The physician was allegedly performing the surgery on girls ages 6 to 8.

ByABC News
April 13, 2017, 8:38 PM

— -- The Department of Justice has charged a Detroit doctor with performing female genital mutilation on minors, it announced Thursday.

Northville, Michigan, resident and emergency room physician Jumana Nagarwala was allegedly performing the surgery on girls between ages 6 and 8 in a medical office in Livonia, about 20 miles west of Detroit, the DOJ said in a press release.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, Nagarwala was charged with performing female genital mutilation, transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and conspiracy, and making a false statement to a federal officer.

Nagarwala was arrested Thursday and set to appear in federal court later this afternoon. Her arrest is believed to be first case brought under the federal law criminalizing female genital mutilation, 18 U.S.C. 116, according to the DOJ.

Some of the minors allegedly traveled between states to have the procedure performed by Nagarwala, according to the press release. She did not work at the Livonia medical clinic where she was performing the procedures, according to the complaint, and there is no record of her billing for medical procedures there.

Despite "her oath to care for her patients," Nagarwala performed "horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims," said acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco.

"The Department of Justice is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country, and will use the full power of the law to ensure that no girls suffer such physical and emotional abuse," Blanco added.

On Feb. 27, Sprint PCS provided phone records requested by the FBI, which identified a series of phone calls between Nagarwala and a Minnesota telephone number, according to the complaint. The FBI determined that the phone number was associated with a Minnesota family that had a daughter who just turned 7 years old.

When the FBI requested phone records for the Minnesota phone number, the agency discovered that on Feb. 3, the phone associated with the number traveled from Minnesota to Michigan and then back to Minnesota the next day, the complaint stated. Surveillance video from a hotel in Farmington Hills on the evening of Feb. 3 showed two minor girls entering a room with two adult women, whom investigators believed to be their mothers.

On Monday, one of girls told an FBI child forensic interviewer that she was brought to Detroit for a "special" girls trip, according to the complaint. Once they arrived at the hotel, the girl said that she and the other minor had to go to the doctor because their "tummies hurt" and that a procedure was done at the doctor's office to "get the germs out."

The girl described the procedures to investigators, and when shown an "unmarked photograph" of Nagarwala, she said she was the one who performed the procedure, the complaint stated. The girl also said she was told to not talk about the procedure.

On April 11, a doctor in Minnesota performed a medical examination on the girl and described her genitals as "not normal in appearance." The doctor, whose findings were pursuant to a search warrant, also observed some scar tissue and small healing lacerations, according to the complaint.

On April 10, when investigators spoke to the second girl, who is also 7 years old, she told them that she "got a shot" on her upper thigh that hurt so badly that she screamed, the complaint states. She also said that after the procedure she could barely walk and that she felt pain all the way down to her ankle and that her parents told her the procedure was a secret and that she is not supposed to talk about it. She was also later examined by a Minnesota doctor, who described a small incision and tear in the girl's genitalia.

Minnesota Child Protective Services spoke to the second girl's parents, who confirmed that they took her to see Nagarwala for a "cleansing" of extra skin. That same day, Nagarwala told a Homeland Security special agent that she is aware that female genitalia mutilation is illegal in the U.S. and that she had no knowledge of the procedure being done in the community. She also told the agent that she has never performed the procedure.

Investigators have identified other children who were "victimized" by Nagarwala between 2005 and 2017, including children in Michigan, according to the complaint.

It is unclear if Nagarwala has obtained an attorney or entered a plea to the charges against her.

Shelby Quast, director of women's and girl's activist group Equality Now's Americas Office, told ABC News that while she is "encouraged" that Nagarwala was arrested, "prosecution is just a piece of the package."

Quast stressed the importance of prevention and ensuring that law enforcement, lawmakers, the health care community, education community, religious leaders, survivors, and activists work together to protect women in U.S. from the "harmful practice."

Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch said female genital mutilation is a "serious federal felony in the United States" and that the practice has "no place in modern society."

Female genital mutilation includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to female genital organs for nonmedical reasons, according to the World Health Organization. The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women, WHO said.

Female genital mutilation is a violation of the human rights of girls and women, according to WHO. More than 500,000 girls and women in the U.S. are either affected or at risk for female genital mutilation.

ABC News' Olivia Smith contributed to this report.