Australia

Witness in female genital mutilation case 'had history of lying': Court

A Somali-born mother pleaded "not guilty" to taking her daughters from Australia to undergo FGM. (Stock Image) Source: PA

The Somali-born mother pleaded "not guilty' to taking her daughters, from Australia to undergo the procedure.

A Queensland trial into female genital mutilation has heard prosecution witnesses had extensive histories of lying and key medical evidence could have been interpreted differently by doctors not familiar with the case.

On Monday, a Somali-born mother pleaded “not guilty” to taking her daughters, then aged nine and 12, from Australia to the African country in April 2015 to undergo the procedure.

The mother and daughters cannot be named for legal reasons in the first prosecution of its type under Queensland law.

Paediatrician Dr John Mills examined the girls on their return from Somalia in November 2015 and his reports are central to the prosecution of their mother.

Dr Mills told the court he stands by his findings the two Australian-born girls received female genital mutilation because he knew the background to the case at the time.

He examined the girls at Logan Hospital after police began investigating the alleged genital mutilation based on a tip-off from one of their older step-sisters.

Two step-sisters, under cross-examination, denied they had coached their half-sisters to say they were mutilated in Somalia and defence accusations they were liars.

They confirmed extensive criminal histories to the court, one serving time for the torture of a six-year-old boy, and both admitting to previously making false statements to police.

Dr Mills evidence included a detailed description of the female anatomy and of his  examination of the two girls.

“The finding that, in my opinion, was abnormal is the area around clitoral hood was abnormally flat and the contour was not there that was normally there,” he said.

“You’d have to think it occurred by some sort of cutting."

Dr Mills is a child protection adviser and is trained in the examination of children suspected of being sexually abused.

He said both girls presented with identical conditions and the elder child mainly spoke on their behalf when asked about bleeding, discharge and pain when urinating while in Somalia.

“She’d had bleeding for a day and also been in pain for three days,” Dr Mills recalled the oldest as saying, with the younger agreeing.

But under defence cross-examination, Dr Mills said there was “not visible disfiguring and scarring”.

He rejected that what he had observed could have been caused by scratching with a fingernail or medical conditions like a lichen sclerosus skin infection or labial adhesion.

“In context of having been informed about allegation of genital cutting, and it having be received overseas, so my opinion is this could be explained by that,” he said.

“I can’t conceive of a way it would occur by accident but it’s difficult to say 100 per cent.

“(But) I don’t think there’s another condition that explains it.”

The court heard it was the first time Dr Mills had examined for female genital mutilation and that his findings were not peer-reviewed.

He said other doctors could reach a different conclusion.

“If these girls hadn’t been specifically brought in for the determination if they had genital mutilation or cutting, I think their general findings wouldn’t have been noticed by doctors who saw them for other reasons. The findings are subtle,” he said.

Two older step sisters gave evidence denying they had coached the young girls to claim genital mutilation or that there was “bad blood” between them and their step-mother.

Challenged by the defence that they were lying, both said “no”.

The two Somali-born women arrived in Australia in 2000 to live with their father and step-mother, after having been raised by their biological mother and grandmother in Kenya.

The elder step-sister said she reported the genital mutilation to the authorities even thought she claimed to have “never seen them (the girls)”.

Under defence examination she confirmed convictions for fraud, forging documents, shop-lifting, possessing a drug pipe and use, assault and minor offences.

Both denied offering to give the girls iPads if they made the claims, which the defence alleges were false.

The younger step-sister, with a year-nine level of education, admitted to lying in an affidavit related to the case.

The court heard she was sentenced to four years in jail in 2012 for the torture, deprivation of liberty and assault against a six-year-old boy using a hot knife to burn him on the back and face, binding his hands and legs and putting tape over his mouth.

She maintained in court she was wrongly convicted.

In a police interview with the accused mother in November 2015 played to the court, she said through an interpreter she did not know what happened to the girls in Somalia.

An interpreter sat in the court with the mother translating proceedings.

Yesterday the court was closed to the public and media while police interviews in 2015 with the girls were played.

The prosecution said the eldest described an unknown female doctor at her grandmother’s house in Somalia “did something” that “caused pain for a number of days”.

She told police their mother was present during the procedure, they were not sedated and the pain was in the part of the body used to urinate.

The jury heard there was a previous trial of the case in October 2017, in which another prosecutor asked the girls about what happened.

Current crown prosecutor Dejana Kovac said the girls by then were living back with their parents and under cross-examination denied any procedure had taken place, saying they had be told to lie by their elder step-sister.

Instead they gave evidence they had suffered from skin rashes all over their bodies during the trip.

Ms Kovac told the jury they should ignore this evidence.

Defence and prosecution closing arguments are due to be made tomorrow morning.

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