State Sen. Dorothy Rupert, D-Boulder, is not a quitter. Having tried unsuccessfully for several years to make genital mutilation of young girls a felony child abuse, Sen. Rupert is back with the same subject in SB 41, co-sponsored by Rep. Penfield Tate, D-Denver. The Senate, which has treated such measures kindly, has passed SB 41 through Health and Appropriations Committees.
While most legislators have probably read descriptions of what occurs in genital mutilations of young girls, other Statesman readers have not. The following is a clinical, dispassionate description from a document entitled "Female Circumcisions, Excision and Infibulation: The Facts and Proposals For Change" published in London in 1980. It describes how the mutilation is done is northern and eastern Africa.
"The little girl, entirely nude, is immobilized in the sitting position on a low stool by at least three women. One of them with her arms tightly around the little girl's chest, the other two hold the child's thighs apart by force in order to open wide the vulva. The child's arms are tied behind her back, or immobilized by the other two women guests.
"The traditional operator says a short prayer. Then she spreads on the floor some offerings to the (God). Then the old woman takes her razor and excises the clitoris. The infibulation follows: The operator cuts with her razor from top to bottom of the small lip. This nymphectomy and scraping are repeated on the other side of the vulva.
"The operator wipes the blood from the wound and the mother, as well as the guests, "verify" her work, sometimes putting their fingers in. The amount of scraping of the large lips depends upon the "technical" ability of the operator. The opening left for urine and menstrual blood is miniscule.
"Then the operator applies a paste and ensures the adhesion of the large lips by means of an acacia thorn, which pierces one lip and passes through the other. She sticks in three or four in this manner down the vulva. These thorns are then held in place either by means of sewing thread, or with horsehair. Paste is again put on the wound.
"But all this is not sufficient to ensure the coalescence of the large lips; so the girl is then tied up from her pelvis to her feet; strips of material rolled up into a rope immobilize her legs entirely. Exhausted, the little girl is them dressed and put on a bed. The operation lasts from fifteen to twenty minutes according to the ability of the old woman and the resistance put up by the child."
What is the purpose? "The cutting of the clitoris effectively decreases sexual spontaneity. Adhering together the two sides of the vulva obliterates the vaginal opening, making intercourse extremely painful for the woman and often pleasurable for the man."
SB 41 recognizes the attitudes that result in genital mutilation and provides: "Belief that the conduct...is required as a matter of custom, ritual, or standard practice, or consent by the child in whom it is performed, or by the child's parent or legal guardian shall not be a defense to a charge of child abuse..."
On fiscal assessment, the legislative council staff assumes one offender will be convicted every five years for a class 3 felony child abuse, with an average length of incarceration of 9.5 years.
While Sen. Rupert was successful in getting her bill out of Senate Appropriations, Rep. Jim Dyer, D-Durango, lost his second attempt at reducing compulsive gambling. His bill last year died in the first committee. This year HB 1118 passed Local Government and died in House Appropriations.
Out of more than 600 bills introduced in 1998, Dyer's bill was the ONLY one to tackle the issue of compulsive gamblers. It followed Gov. Romer's "request" (agreed to by the State Lottery) to spend $25,000 on a 1997 study of compulsive gambling in Colorado.
The Dyer bill as amended in Local Government funded a prevention program, improved use of a toll-free phone number for counseling and referral, and required all legal gambling licensed premises to conspicuously post compulsive gambling notices, including toll-free "hot line" phone numbers.
The gambling study was done by Rachel Volberg, who has a long and distinguished career in analyzing data on compulsive gamblers. If she errs, it's always on the conservative side.
Based upon phone interviews completed with 1,810 Colorado residents aged 18 and older, she estimates there are between 7,800 and 26,000 current probable pathological gamblers, and from 28,900 to 58,600 current problem gamblers. That averages 61,000 adult Coloradans who are in trouble or on the cusp of trouble.
Her study found 8.7 percent of pathological and problem gamblers in Colorado are committing crimes to support their habit. That totals 5,307 Coloradans. We don't know the numbers of crimes committed by each person since Volberg did not reveal that data, although it was a question in the survey: "Once or twice, sometimes, often?"
Although the survey promised anonymity, the phone number was known and an admission by 8.7 percent that they had indeed committed a crime to pay for their gambling habit is probably conservative. Even so, if they were caught, the prison population in Colorado could increase by 40 percent. Failure by House Appropriations to recognize the inevitable cost to the state by NOT doing something to reduce the problem is reprehensible.
There's no question that Gov. Romer is very concerned about what the increase in legalized gambling has done to Colorado. But as writers (including myself) tackle the Romer 12-year legacy in the closing months of 1998, we'll see that one great failure of the Romer years has been its inability to stem the increase in legalized gambling and compulsive gamblers.
Although the governor has much to deal with, I was disappointed that the day before Dyer's bill was to be heard in Appropriations, Romer did not know what the bill contained.
Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.
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