NOVEMBER 2014: Seven years ago, when Intact America was just an idea among a handful of intactivists, J. Steven Svoboda—a human rights and patent law attorney in San Francisco—was an integral part of the conversation. In fact, he’s been fighting for human rights for decades.
While attending Harvard Law School in the late 1980s, Steven traveled to Guatemala to volunteer on behalf of indigenous people—working 14-hour days, visiting morgues, confronting army generals, interviewing families of murdered peasants, and contributing extensively to a major report by Human Rights Watch.
When Steven began to hear from others who saw circumcision as a men’s rights and human rights issue, the commonalities with his earlier humanitarian work was clear. “The more I learned, the more concerned I became. I knew working on this would be worthwhile and would help children—and, indeed, all of us.”
In 1997, Steven founded Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, an international network of attorneys who work to secure equal protection for children’s legal and human rights to bodily integrity and self-determination. ARC works to help plaintiffs looking to expand the legal standard on male genital mutilation. “We want to make legal relief potentially available to all involuntarily circumcised males,” says Steven. “We’re forcing the medical profession to confront a challenge to the inhumane disfigurement of baby boys’ genitals from an organization of legal professionals which it cannot afford to ignore.”
Steven has authored and co-authored more than 30 academic articles on the legal and ethical issues surrounding child circumcision. In 2001, he presented to the United Nations the first document centrally addressing male circumcision as a human rights violation. He works closely with Intact America and serves on its Steering Committee. “Intact America inspires all of us working for genital autonomy for boys, girls, and intersex people by its professionalism, its unique and fresh approaches, and its commitment to reaching as many people as possible in all walks of life regarding the importance of allowing our children to decide for themselves about their bodies.”
Georganne Chapin, Executive Director of Intact America and an attorney herself, serves on the Board of Directors of ARC. Referring to the collaboration between the two organizations, Georganne says, “Steven is a terrific colleague. His analysis of legal issues and of circumcision’s role in American society is always thoughtful and precise. I’m so grateful for everything he does to protect baby boys, and I’m proud to work alongside him.”