Gambian Toufah Jallow tells of surviving rape by dictator

Gambia Toufah Jallow

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Toufah Jallow’s name resonates deeply in Gambia as one of the few women who has taken a public stand against sexual assault in the small West African state.

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

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

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

Now, Jallow is telling her story in detail in a newly released memoir: “Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #MeToo Movement.”

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

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

Jallow said she wants to be a role model for others who have experienced sexual assault and to help them deal with it.

“I wanted to make my life as relatable to young girls as possible so (they see) that what I did is achievable (and) is not seen as a miracle,” she said. “It takes an ordinary girl who grew up in a village somewhere in The Gambia with a mother and with 20 siblings in a polygamous home.”