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Breast ironing: an under-recognised form of gender-based violence
  1. Alessandra Glover Williams1,
  2. Fiona Finlay2
  1. 1Department of Neonatology, St Michael's Hospital, Bristol, UK
  2. 2Community Child Health, Virgin Community Child Health, Bath, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alessandra Glover Williams, Neonatology, St Michael's Hospital, Bristol, BS2 8EG, UK; aless_glover{at}hotmail.co.uk

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You might have heard of breast ironing as it has recently piqued the media’s interest, but what is basis behind this? Breast ironing is one of the five United Nations (UN) under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence and is estimated to affect at least 1000 women and girls in West African communities across the UK.1 In reality, this figure could be much higher, but the custom is extremely secretive and there is no official data on how widespread the practice is.

Breast ironing is the process during which pubescent girls’ developing breasts are ironed, massaged, flattened or pounded down over a period of time to try to delay or stop the development of the breasts. Heated objects, such as large stones, are typically used, while others may use an elastic belt or binder to press the breasts aiming to prevent them from growing. Breast ironing is typically carried out when girls are aged between 9 and 15 years of age in correlation with the initiation of thelarche and is often performed in secret by female family members.2

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