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City of Banjul
Friday, October 7, 2022

#IamToufah

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With Aisha Jallow

I am the girl who lived next door to my Grandfather, this man who I loved and who had given my mother, sister and I refuge when we suffered in Finland. We came in 1969, my mother re-married in 1970 with the neighbour, so we moved into the next house. I often visited my Grandfather, who was a widower, spoke to him and made some small chores. He was a very religious man and spent every Sunday in the church. He lived a quiet life, alone in his house, so he always lit up when I visited him. The relation between us siblings and our mother was a disturbed one, so suddenly one day when my sister was around 17 years old , my mother threw her out of the house.

My sister had nowhere to go, so upset as she was she went to our Grandfather to ask him for help. He had a big, empty house so she could stay there. I was too young to understand that after a while our Grandfather had found interest in my young and beautiful sister. He was attracted by her and certainly made his moves, but she never told anyone. She just made sure to stay inside her locked room as soon as it was possible. My sister didn’t tell our mother what had happened to her, because our mother had clearly showed that she didn’t care about her in any way. She had thrown her own flesh and blood out of the house, telling her to never come back!

Some years later my sister got married and moved in to her husband’s house. My Grandfather was alone again, and as I didn’t know anything about what he had tried to do to my sister, I never felt awkward to stay there. Not until the day when I became a teenager and my body had changed to look more like a woman’s. My Grandfather must have noticed the change, little by little, so one day when I visited him he was acting differently. He came after me and wanted to touch me. He had hugged me before, as a Grandfather normally does, but this was different.

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I didn’t understand what was going on, so I tried to avoid him and laugh it away. Suddenly he grabbed me and placed me in his lap. I was trapped in his strong arms, he was an old farmer so he knew how to keep a struggling animal in place. This is what I was , a prey struggling in his arms to get lose but I couldn’t . He lifted up my skirt and forced his fingers inside my underpants. He was touching my private parts and after a while he said that he wanted to go to the bedroom to make love to me. I didn’t know anything about making love by that time, but I knew it sounded wrong so I whispered: No. He kept on touching my private parts and I just wanted to get away.

My Grandfather was a bit deaf, so suddenly I got this smart idea to tell him that someone is coming. He got scared and embarrassed so he finally let me go. Crying I was pulling up my underpants and ran home, telling no one what had happened. I was so filled with shame and disgust at the same time. I knew there was no use of telling my mother about it, because she would never believe me. Some days later I wrote a letter to my Grandfather, telling him how much I hated what he had done to me. I didn’t have courage enough to give it to him, so I hid the letter under a small tablecloth. Some time after the letter was gone, but no one mentioned it.

I did my best to try to forget what had happened to me, but I never went to visit my Grandfather alone again. If my sister would have told what happened to her, perhaps I would have been protected, but the shame was on us girls, not on the perpetrator. Not until today I have been able to share this story with anyone, it has taken me over 45 years to get to that stage and it was thanks to Toufah. I bought the book about Toufah in Timbooktoo bookshop and I haven’t been able to leave the book since when I first opened it.

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I have been crying, felt proud of Toufah and her courage. I have felt anger over the way she was violated by the former president Yaya Jammeh. I have felt anger over all the internet trolls who have been trying to drag her down to their own low level. I have admired Toufah for her ingenuity to find ways to escape from the Master of Cruelty and his minions. I have been inspired to search for more information online and learn more about sexual abuse. I have studied this subject before, but I am even more determined now to take part in the fight for women’s rights to their own bodies and the protection of our children against all kinds of violence and especially sexual.

In a recent article, called Protect our children, I spoke about body memories, that the body never forgets our trauma even if our minds have tried to erase them. Even if the victim never forgets her trauma, she can find ways to handle the memories but she needs help. Toufah got help through a therapist but also by boxing. By punching the boxing ball as hard as she could, she released some of the stress, the anger and the hatred she felt because of her trauma. Some time ago I saw a very interesting video about a therapy method used somewhere here in Africa. Sadly I have forgotten which country it was from, but what matters is that I haven’t forgotten what it was about.

The female therapist had invented her own method on how to help her young girls, victims of sexual abuse. She had clad one room with mattresses on both floors and the walls. When the girls needed to release some of the pain and the anger they felt against their violators, they could kick, punch and throw themselves on the mattresses without getting hurt. The therapist was always there to comfort them and calm them down. It was like being inside a cocoon where no one could hurt you anymore. The girls cried, screamed and punched the mattresses as if they were their violators. They let their emotions out and that helped them.

We are not helping anyone who is the victim of sexual abuse by pushing the  problem under the rug. We should always focuse on helping the victims and punishing the perpetrators, not the other way around. Toufah, thank you for having the courage to speak out. Thank you for your struggle. Your struggle and courage has helped so many girls and women to finally be able to speak out. You have helped me, from the bottom of my heart I thank you, Toufah.

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