Arrests and prosecutions alone will not end the problem of FGM, said a police inspector speaking at the National FGM Centre’s annual conference, this week.
More preventative work with affected communities is needed in order to end the harmful practice, the audience heard.
Inspector Allen Davis, from the Metropolitan Police Service, told the audience: “There are a number of challenges to securing convictions.
“Prosecutions alone aren’t going to change anything. They are symbolic but we’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of the problem.
“But prosecutions do send out a very strong message to communities that it’s illegal and they act as a deterrent for people thinking about taking their daughter abroad to undergo FGM, or having it done in this country.”
He said barriers to reporting FGM to the police include children being unlikely to ‘tell on their parents’, or being too young to remember what happened and professionals failing to report information.
Difficulties in securing a conviction include issues such as pressure from the community on the family involved, and the challenge to secure an admission of guilt, said Inspector Davis.
He added: “For me as a police officer preventing the harm from happening in the first place is the most important thing.
“Information sharing is crucial to tackling this safeguarding issue. It’s only by sharing this information can we help to safeguard the vulnerable and to be able to target those who are putting them at risk.
“Community ties can be thicker than blood, so it is vital we are in those communities having conversations with them so we can end the practice.”
Speakers at the FGM Centre conference run by Barnardo’s in partnership with the Local Government Association, said the focus should be on preventative work, to support families where a girl might be at risk of undergoing FGM instead of stepping in afterwards.
Head of the National FGM Centre, Leethen Bartholomew, said:
“Inspector Davis is right, in that if we are to win hearts and minds within communities where FGM is still practised, we must be at the heart of those communities.
“This is why education is such a vital part of our work. Not only do we work with girls and their families, raise awareness in schools and train professionals like social workers and teachers how to spot the signs of girls at risk of FGM.
“We are also working within communities and help them appreciate that female genital mutilation has a lifelong impact on survivors both physically and psychologically and is against the law.
“We have a long way to go in the fight against FGM but I’m confident that if everyone works together we will get there.”
The conference came just days after NHS Digital published the annual female genital mutilation prevalence figures.