OBJECTIVES: This research documents the experiences of people with Somali heritage with female genital mutilation (FGM)-safeguarding services in healthcare and whether such services are considered appropriate by the people who encounter them.
DESIGN: Six focus groups conducted with ethnic Somalis living in Bristol, during the summer of 2018, divided by gender and whether people had experienced FGM-safeguarding as adults or children.SettingParticipants experienced FGM-safeguarding in primary and secondary care.
PARTICIPANTS: 30 people (21 women and 9 men), identified through local organisations or snowball sampling. All participants were of Somali heritage and aged over 18.
RESULTS: Government priorities to support those who have experienced female genital cutting/mutilation (FGC/M) are being undermined by their own approaches to protect those considered at risk. Participants argued that approaches to FGM-safeguarding were based on outdated stereotypes and inaccurate evidence which encouraged health and other service providers to see every Somali parent as a potential perpetrator of FGC/M. Female participants described providers in a range of healthcare settings, including Accident and Emergency Departments (A&E), antenatal care and general practice, as 'fixated' with FGC/M, who ignored both their health needs and their experience as victims. Participants felt stigmatised and traumatised by their experience. This undermined their trust in health services, producing a reticence to seek care, treatment delays and reliance on alternative sources of care. Associated recommendations include developing more accurate evidence of risk, more appropriate education for healthcare providers and more collaborative approaches to FGM-safeguarding.
CONCLUSION: All the participants involved in this study are committed to the eradication of FGC/M. But the statutory approaches currently adopted to enable this are considered ill-conceived, unnecessarily heavy-handed and ultimately detrimental to this. Recognising these common aims can enable the development of services better able to protect and support those at risk of FGC/M in ways which are culturally competent and sensitive.