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The legal context for groundbreaking female genital mutilation case

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Dr. Jumana Nagarwala and five other adults are accused conspiring to commit female genital mutilation at clinic in Livonia. Federal authorities say they have identified six young girls who are victims.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the cultural, and sometimes religious, practice of cutting young girls – often with the goal of restricting their ability to enjoy sex later in life.

The practice became a federal crime in 1996, but now for the first time, the government is prosecuting an alleged case of FGM.

The investigation is focused on a clinic in metro Detroit. Last week, prosecutors released a new indictment. A total of six adults are now facing charges. They're all members of a small Indian Muslim sect. Authorities say they have identified six victims, four girls from Michigan and two from Minnesota. The charges include "conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation." 

Wayne State University Law School professor Peter Henning spoke with Morning Edition host Doug Tribou. Henning previously worked in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

He discussed the scope of the investigation, the challenges of prosecuting a case based on an untested law, and how the government typically handles conspiracy cases.

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