“In this riveting autobiography, Jallow details how at 18 she won a pageant sponsored by Yahya Jammeh, the then-president of Gambia. A university scholarship was promised as the prize, but what she got instead was a series of gifts and grooming visits from the president that culminated in a marriage proposal. After the teenager refused, an enraged Jammeh drugged and brutally raped her. “There is no word for rape in the Fula language,” Jallow explains, not because it doesn’t happen, but “because we are supposed to believe it is so rare that no word is necessary for it.” Understanding the danger to herself and her family, Jallow fled her native country into neighboring Senegal, eventually locating sympathetic authorities who helped her secure refugee status in Canada.

The tale of Jallow’s escape is harrowing and propulsive. While her trauma is extreme, the real story takes place in its aftermath, in the ways it defined the victim’s life. Reluctant to tell fellow refugees her back story and fearful that local Gambians had heard slandering media reports about her, Jallow sank into depression and isolation. When she finally breached her silence to a friend and then a therapist, the mantle lifted to reveal a molten determination.

In 2016, Jammeh lost re-election but refused to concede. Only after the United Nations Security Council denounced him, and the Gambian Embassy in Senegal swore in Adama Barrow as president, did Jammeh flee the country. Despite the risks, Jallow decided to testify at the hearings that followed. “As I shared the details of the night I was raped,” she recounts, “I knew I was doing something shocking, something Gambians had not seen.” In her rousing final remarks, she invokes the national custom of apologizing for one’s testimony: “It offends men like Yahya Jammeh. It offends men who want to sympathize with perpetrators. And to those people: I am not sorry.”

It takes extraordinary courage and vision to induce social change in a single lifetime, and Jallow has done just that. Now 25, she lives in Toronto, where she’s studying to become a counselor for assaulted women and children. By the end, her work has had an impact at home, too — her baby sister marching around repeating her words: ‘I. Am. Not. Sorry!'” – New York Times Book Review

TOUFAH published from Truth to Power on October 12, 2021.

Toufah is represented by Marilyn Biderman.