THE HEAD of an Oxford group dedicated to raising awareness and supporting survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has said new figures for Oxfordshire are the 'tip of the iceberg'.

Data released by NHS Digital this week shows there were up to seven newly reported cases in the county between April 2018 and March this year.

Rounded to the nearest five to protect privacy, it is the same amount as the previous 12 months and slightly down on 2016-17.

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Anti-FGM group Oxford Against Cutting's executive officer and co-founder Kate Agha said: "It's important to emphasise that this would not be necessarily new cases, it often having happened years before and in different countries."

She added: "It is also the tip of the iceberg because of the taboo around the issue. This doesn't capture the full picture due to the very private nature of FGM."

Children's charity the NSPCC revealed across the UK it was contacted 645 times about FGM last year, a 36 per cent rise on the one before.

Oxford Mail:

Kate Agha, right, with Kaddy Touray, Community Outreach Director for Oxford Against Cutting

A note with the data suggested a reduction in the number of newly reported cases was to be expected, explaining: "The longer the collection continues, the greater the chance of a women or girl having been recorded in it previously."

FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK for 34 years, and in 2003 it also became a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to take their child abroad to have female genital mutilation.

Victims can suffer from constant pain, infertility, mental health problems, life-threatening problems during pregnancy, and even death from loss of blood.

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All the Oxfordshire cases were submitted by doctors at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and reveal the FGM was carried out when the women were between the ages of five and nine and took place in north or eastern Africa.

The data shows the abuse was picked up during treatment while the women were pregnant.

A spokesperson for Oxford Health said while women and girls were most likely to be subjected to FGM in childhood they were most likely to become involved with health services for FGM when they began a family.

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They said: "Our school health nurses and health visitors work to support people who have experienced FGM or may be at risk by talking with families and in schools to prevent FGM by raising awareness and offering care to women, girls and families affected.

"Our mental health services support people with the psychological trauma of experiencing FGM."

They added: "We also refer people to the Oxford Rose Clinic which offers specialist physical and psychological care for people who have experienced FGM."

Oxford Mail:

Dr Brenda Kelly with a patient at Oxford Rose Clinic. Picture: Jon Lewis

The clinic is a specialist unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital which has treated more than 150 survivors since it was opened in 2015 by Dr Brenda Kelly.

A spokesperson for Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, in charge of the clinic, said: "FGM can lead to serious and lasting problems for physical, sexual, and emotional wellbeing. Many find it difficult to talk about such problems or may not know that help is available.

"At the Oxford Rose Clinic, we have a specialist team with experience in providing sensitive and compassionate care for women and girls living with complications of FGM."

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It is a free and confidential service, and girls and women can self-refer to the clinic, or speak to their GP to be referred.

Ms Agha, said Oxford Against Cutting, which was founded in 2015 the same year the NHS started recording cases of FGM, was focused on working with local communities, survivors and schools to make people more aware of the issue, adding: "Summer is a particularly high risk time for girls with the school holidays and that is why we have a poster campaign throughout July and August in 80 bus stops throughout Oxford."

She said the county was one of the few areas that had a strong multi-agency approach to the issue and that things had improved since the group was created in terms of awareness, saying: "I think a number of schools are feeling more confident about approaching the topic sensitively."

The group provided training to 1,000 staff and students across the Thames Valley last year.

Since NHS records began in April 2015, 20,440 individual women and girls have been identified as having FGM at some point in their lives.

Anyone worried about someone who has suffered, or is at risk of, FGM can call the NSPCC for free and anonymously on 0800 028 3550 or email