Officers from Sussex Police are to run an operation at Gatwick Airport to try to tackle the problem of young women becoming victims of female genital mutilation (FGM).
In the run up to Christmas, officers will be raising the awareness amongst passengers travelling to countries where there is a history of FGM.
A spokesman for Sussex Police said it was believed victims were taken back to their country of origin, often during the school holidays, so the procedure could be carried out on them.
Their wounds were then allowed to heal before they were taken home to the UK.
In most cases victims had no idea they were being taken abroad so the painful, disfiguring operation could be done.
FGM is illegal in the UK and under the FGM Act 2003 it is also illegal for girls who have permanent residency in the UK to be taken overseas to have FGM anywhere in the world.
Those who are involved or facilitate this process are guilty of offences that carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
Detective Inspector Andy Richardson said: “The operation is aimed at gathering intelligence about FGM and importantly trying to identify girls who could be about to undergo this illegal act so we can prevent it.
“We are focused on helping any victims and are determined to ensure that offenders are prosecuted and brought to justice.
“It is extremely difficult to detect and investigate FGM because it is a taboo subject that families and communities involved in the practice keep to themselves.
“There is intelligence that girls in the UK have been the victims of FGM but we need help from members of the community to prevent it remaining a hidden crime.
“Most children who become the victim of FGM have no idea of what is going to happen to them when they are taken out of the UK.”
Detective Inspector Jacqui Jenkins said: “FGM is a hidden problem that affects thousands of children and young women in the UK and there are no legitimate cultural or religious reasons for it.
“This is completely unacceptable and something that we all have a responsibility to try to prevent.
“Our collective ignorance may cost a child her life and I urge anyone that suspects a child to be in danger of either having or having had FGM to report their concerns to police.”
If you or someone you know is in immediate risk of harm you can call the emergency services by dialling 999.
The police and health services recognise FGM and can protect you from harm.
If you are an adult who has been a victim of FGM please call Sussex Police on 101.
Specialist adult protection teams will be able to assist you.
If you are concerned about a child, specialist child protection teams will also be able to assist.
Alternatively there are charitable organisations able to provide advice and support for victims of FGM.
The NSPCC can be contacted on 0800 0283550 (available 24/7) or via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daughters of Eve can be contacted via the charity’s website or by text on 07983 030488.