TV review: A brave crusader's unflinching campaign against FGM in The Cruel Cut

Channel 4

Female genital mutilation is usually abbreviated to FGM, to save on syllables, but also to spare our embarrassment. The phrase refers to a practice so horrible, that even when we're discussing FGM, we'd rather not discuss the reality of what it actually is.

I haven't yet seen the viewing figures for The Cruel Cut, which aired on Channel 4 last night, but I imagine many casual channel surfers will have quickly switched over once the topic of this documentary became apparent, and there were few moments in Leyla Hussein's unflinching film when the topic wasn't apparent. She began with an emotional and graphic account of her own experience of FGM ("I felt every single, cut, pull, stitching"), which set the tone for what would follow. You might not want to hear about it, but Hussein's point is that since an estimated 24,000 girls in the UK are at risk, the least we can do is listen.

Cutting girls' genitalia for non-medical reasons, has been illegal in the UK since 1985, yet not a single successful prosecution has been brought in the past 28 years. Leyla Hussein wanted to know why, so she took her campaign to an impressive array of interested parties, including the former Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer and Home Secretary Theresa May.

Her discussions with young men from practising communities were particularly revealing. "I heard if you take it off then it calms the person down, rather than being a supermarket that's open to everyone," said one. Hussein soon disabused him of that notion with some giant Plasticine vaginas and an oversized pair of scissors.

It wasn't subtle, and neither was Hussein's pink pop-up vagina tent on the South Bank. She used free cupcakes to lure unsuspecting passers-by inside, before confronting them with images too graphic to show on the television – we were left to infer the content from the audience's winces.

In fact, The Cruel Cut was harrowing from start to finish, but Hussein's crusading sense of purpose never flagged. Whether they like it or not, people in the UK must be made aware of the reality of FGM, she said, so that they will join the fight to end it.

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