Histories of pervasive gender-based violence in asylum-seeking women who have undergone female genital mutilation or cutting

Hazel Lever, Kim A. Baranowski, Deborah Ottenheimer, Holly G. Atkinson, Elizabeth K. Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Few studies have described the broader experience of survivors of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) who have sought asylum in the United States. To gain a better understanding of their exposure to gender-based violence (GBV), the study was conducted to help uncover themes and patterns of co-occurring individual and community factors among women asylum seekers who experienced FGM/C before they arrived in the United States. Following a retrospective chart review of FGM/C cases seen in a human rights clinic, 35 women met the inclusion criteria. The constant comparative method (CCM) was used to develop themes derived from clients’ personal declarations and physicians’ affidavits. A qualitative analysis revealed extensive histories of violence—physical, psychological, and sexual—demonstrating that FGM/C is only part of a larger arc of violence. Key themes developed via CCM include the experience of FGM/C, cultural attitudes toward FGM/C, cultural attitudes toward women, the lack of agency felt by women, silence around experiences of GBV and the constant reinforcement of that silence, the role of education in women's lives, and acts of resistance and social support. Placing FGM/C within its cultural context allows for a better understanding of its role in society's broader subjugation of women and elucidates how these social structures are maintained. For health care and other service providers, the high frequency of multiple forms of violence and the ingrained nature of women's oppression indicate the need for trauma-informed care and services as well as accessible resources beyond those explicitly related to FGM/C.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)839-851
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
Volume35
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2022

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