SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, Sydney, Saturday, 10 January 2004.

Two charged over circumcision deal
From Robert Jablon in Los Angeles

A COUPLE has been charged with agreeing to circumcise two young girls in what is believed to be among the first cases filed under a US federal law banning female genital mutilation

Todd Cameron Bertrang, 41, and Robin Faulkinbury, 24, were arrested at their home in Canyon Country, California, after an FBI agent posing as a father of an eight-year-old and a 12-year-old contacted Bertrang via e-mail, then met him to discuss the procedure.

Neither Bertrang nor Faulkinbury are accused of actually circumcising any minors.

During an October 2002 meeting, Bertrang allegedly told the agents that "we have to go into this realising that to alter a female genitalia, in any fashion, under 18, carries a five-year immediate prison sentence," an arrest affidavit stated.

According to the criminal complaint, Bertrang is not licensed to practice medicine in California.

On his Web site, Bertrang says he is an aficionado of body piercing and cutting who has performed body modifications on men and women.

Bertrang boasted to an undercover FBI agent that he had performed more female circumcisions than "anyone else in the Western Hemisphere", according to the affidavit.

Faulkinbury was identified to the agent as Bertrang's "slave" who assisted him in the procedures.

Female circumcision, which may involve the removal of the clitoris or all the external genitalia, is a traditional procedure in some African cultures, but has been condemned by the United Nations.

Assistant US Attorney Kevin Lally said there was no mention made of cultural reasons for the surgeries Bertrang and Faulkinbury allegedly agreed to.

Bertrang and Faulkinbury were charged with conspiracy to violate the federal Prohibition of Female Mutilation Act of 1995, which outlaws the removal of certain sexual organs on girls under age 18 unless it is medically necessary and only then if performed by a licensed medical practitioner.

Lally said there never has been a decision or appeal in such a case, and he had not heard of any cases even being filed under the law.

Bertrang and Faulkinbury are being held without bail.

Each defendant could each face up to five years in prison if convicted.

(File revised 10 January 2004)