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Girls & Women

FGM Victims Go Under the Knife Again — This Time to Rebuild Their Lives

Ivona Percec, the plastic surgery director at the University of Pennsylvania, unintentionally became a voice for millions of women after treating a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM) in 2015.  

Percec pioneered a surgery to reverse physical and mental damage caused by FGM that can ultimately“ increase sexual function and, patients’ early experiences suggest, help heal the emotional and psychological wounds associated with the mutilation,” according to Penn Medicine News

Percec wasn’t always dedicated to spreading awareness on FGM. When she began treating FGM victims, she assumed other surgeons would be leading on how to treat deformities caused by FGM, but soon discovered she was wrong. 

Read More: Study Reveals Surprising Reason Why FGM Is Still Practiced So Widely

When Percec began researching procedures on genital reconstruction for FGM victims, she found little information. Nobody in the US was a leading expert. And in reading countless cosmetic surgery publications, she could not find a single surgeon with experience in FGM reconstructive surgery. 

Percec was not able to find a place in the US where the country’s 513,000 FGM victims can receive care that includes therapy, nor could she find a standard procedure for FGM genital reconstruction in the US plastic surgery community. 

So Percec developed her own form of treatment. 

On March 2, Parcec published a report in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, a publication usually filled with articles on new methods for tummy tucks or breast augmentation. In her article, Percec made clear that she and her colleagues had a different priority: treating FGM. 

In her study, “Female Genital Mutilation Reconstruction: A Preliminary Report,” Persec and her staff treated three patients, all of whom recently immigrated from Sierra Leone to the US. Each woman Persec treated had suffered what the World Health Organization categorizes as FGM level II, where the clitoris, all of the labia minora, and part of the labia majora are removed. The three women, who remain anonymous, are just a few of the 200 million victims of FGM in the world

“These women were embarrassed that they were subjected to this procedure, in particular since relocating to the United States,” Percec said. “All of them were able to have intercourse, but without pleasure – usually with pain. None of them ever let their partners see their vaginal area.”

Read More: FGM ‘Parties’ Are Taking Place in the UK, Health Charity Warns

Percec and her staff surgically repaired the parts of these three women, who were mutilated between infancy and adolescence, performing surgery around their scarred tissue. The women were given medications to ease the pain and antibiotic cream to prevent infections, two things they had been denied during their first cuttings. They had a check-up a year later with Percec to see how they had recovered. 

“Plastic surgeons have a crucial role to play in this recovery, and it’s important for physicians to be informed and prepared to address the surgical and emotional needs of women who seek care for this,” Percec said in her report. “Our procedure is simple yet effective and can help victims restore their physical and psychological sense of well-being.”

The most important aspect of the procedure for Percec is the emotional support these women need to heal. Persec believes plastic surgeons have an obligation to fill this gap in care for victims of FGM. 

“Female genital mutilation is a violation of the basic rights of women and children,” Percec said. “As nations around the world work to eliminate this custom, plastic surgeons can play an important role in the physical, emotional, and psychological recovery of women everywhere.” 

Read More: 12 Myths About Female Genital Mutilation Debunked

Percec is right, the focus should be on ending the vicious practice of FGM. Global Citizen and CHIME FOR CHANGE are working to end FGM as part of ending violence against women in our Level the Law campaign. 

Until then, doctors can and should unite to care for millions of scarred women who carry the silent burden and pain of FGM.