Gambian Toufah Jallow says he survived rape of dictator


She rose to fame at the age of 18 when she won a college scholarship in a national talent competition for young women. But in 2015, she fled The Gambia fearing for her life after dictator Yahya Jammeh allegedly drugged and raped her, angry that she refused his marriage proposal.

She lived quietly in Canada, fearing that Jammeh would persecute her family members in The Gambia. After Jammeh’s fall from power, she later found the strength to go public with her story, despite The Gambia’s culture of silence on sexual assault, she told The Associated Press.

The nation was captivated when she held a press conference to share her story via social media and in a human rights report in June 2019. She also testified months later before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Now, Jallow tells her story in detail in a recently published memoir: “Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #MeToo Movement”.

“In June 2015, Yahya Jammeh, then President of The Gambia, raped me. He was never charged. Never convicted … He thought he would get away with it, tried to erase me. I thought I would never talk about it, that I would remain invisible. We were both wrong, because here I am, shining like the sunrise over the Melanian coast, “she writes.” I am Toufah Jallow. This is my story.”

In the book, co-authored with journalist Kim Pattaway, Jallow describes her journey from the daughter and granddaughter of women who, in their own way, fought against the country’s patriarchy until the evening of her alleged rape and his tense escape and the resulting traumas and challenges. .

Jallow said she wanted to be a role model for others who have been sexually assaulted and help them cope.

“I wanted my life to be as accessible as possible to young girls so that they would see that what I have done is achievable (and) is not considered a miracle,” she said. “It takes an ordinary girl who grew up in a village somewhere in The Gambia with a mother and 20 siblings in a polygamous household. “

Coming from a humble background, Jallow was propelled into a prominent role due to her scholarship, attending numerous public events with then-president Jammeh. After receiving gifts from Jammeh, who was already married, and rejecting his offer to become one of his wives, Jallow was lured into the president’s private quarters, where she says he drugged and raped her.

Jammeh did not react, but his party denied everything.

Jallow hasn’t told anyone in The Gambia, fearing the worst for herself and her family. She knew there were hundreds of people who had been arrested for daring to question Jammeh.

Terrified, Jallow fled The Gambia. She concealed her identity by wearing a niqab (head-to-toe veil) so that state agents would not recognize her. She went to Senegal and, with the help of trusted allies, traveled to Canada where she now lives.

For years no one in The Gambia knew what had happened to Jallow. She lived as a refugee in Canada, working odd jobs to support her classes.

“For a very long time… I always put it aside,” she said of her trauma. But seeing statistics on sexual assault with so few reports bothered her. “I have never felt so invisible,” she said of it. period.

Speaking of sex and sexuality, “it’s just not done” in The Gambia, she said. There isn’t even a word for rape in her native Fulani language, she told AP. Instead, people use phrases like “Someone has fallen on me”.

When Jallow came forward in 2019 about his assault, it sparked a movement. Over 50,000 people were glued to social media when she first spoke. The women then marched holding banners saying “#IAmToufah” and there was a wave of reports of rape of others.

Jallow’s speech was a ‘wind of change’ in The Gambia, said Marion Volkmann-Brandau, a women’s rights activist who helped guide Jallow and led the human rights investigation into the sexual assault in The Gambia which led her to come forward.

“There was that moment of support … the women who usually talk about rape and have a story to share have shown that they are no longer invisible,” she said. “The Gambians also realized how widespread the problem was. “

That hope, however, has unfortunately waned, Volkmann-Brandau said, as the legal system needs to be reformed in order to take sexual assault seriously.

But the groundwork was laid and Jallow launched the Toufah Foundation, created to help survivors of sexual assault in The Gambia. Its goal is to have the first fully operational women’s shelter in The Gambia.

Her name is now used to talk about rape in communities that were once unable to talk about it.

She often travels to The Gambia, while studying in Canada to be a counselor with women and child victims, and also works on a documentary that follows survivors of sexual violence.

And if Jammeh returns to The Gambia, Jallow says she will travel there to confront him.

“I feel like I’m too visible to be invisible,” she said. “I faced the worst fear … I physically survived him.”

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