What Constitutes Mutilation? A Concern With Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Laws in Australia and the Question of Natural Function

  • Juliet B. RogersEmail author
Sociocultural Issues and Epidemiology (J Abdulcadir and C Johnson-Agbakwu, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Sociocultural Issues and Epidemiology


Purpose of Review

In 2019, the highest court in Australia is deliberating on the question of what constitutes mutilation. This paper examines the arguments in the first case prosecuted using Female Genital Mutilation law in Australia and considers how the arguments have drawn on ideas of function and desire of women’s genitals as well as of women themselves. The brief writings on this case and on FGM law in Australia are discussed, particularly the work of Kennedy, Sullivan, Seuffert and Iribanes, and Gans.

Recent Findings

The paper finds that the ideas of genital function in the deliberations and judgments of this case rely on a problematic idea of the natural function of a woman and a presumption of the harm of female genital mutilation irrespective of alternative research, and rely on a singular document published in Australia in 1994 that did not include any engagement or opinions of people from the communities who practice circumcision or genital cutting in Australia.


The partial information relied on in Australian law about the practices of female genital cutting and the immediate presumption of harm in respect to any form of the practices means that future research and indeed legal opinion already presume that the practices are a mutilation.


Female genital cutting Vaziri and Magennis Australian law Female Genital Mutilation Act NSW Clitoral function 



My thanks are due to Sahar Ghumkhor and John Sutton for comments and assistance with this work.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that she has no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social and Political SciencesUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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