A former beauty queen, Toufah Jallow, has accused the country’s former president of rape as an investigation claims Yahya Jammeh systematically sexually abused young women.
Toufah Jallow claims he raped her as a teenager at a religious event on the eve of Ramadan. Her story is part of a Human Rights Watch and Trial International report that details another alleged rape and sexual assault by Mr Jammeh.
The former winner of the prestigious Miss July 22nd beauty and scholarship pageant said she wanted to “start the conversation about something that is destroying the fabric of society” – girls carrying the burden of sexual abuse.
“I felt like if I can do that with the president of the country, it becomes somewhat easier for someone who’s dealing with a CEO, with a boss, with a schoolteacher or with an uncle, because the highest level is being exposed,” she told the Guardian.
In the months following her coronation, she said the former president acted as a father figure when they met, offering her advice, gifts and money, and also organising for running water to be installed in her family home.
Then at a dinner organised by an aide to the president, she says he asked her to marry him. She refused and rebuffed other enticements from the aide to agree to the offer.
Ms Jallow said the aide then insisted she attend a religious ceremony at State House in her role as beauty queen in June 2015. But when she arrived, she was taken to the president’s private residence.
“It was clear what this was going to be,” she said, describing Mr Jammeh’s anger at her for rejecting him.
Ms Jallow claims he slapped her and injected her with a needle.
“He rubbed his genitals in my face, pushed me down to my knees, pulled my dress up and sodomised me.”
The young woman says afterwards she locked herself at home for three days and then decided to flee to neighbouring Senegal.
Once in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, Ms Jallow sought the assistance of various human rights organisations. Weeks later, she was approved protection status and moved to Canada, where she has been living since.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Trial International say Mr Jammeh had a system in place to abuse women, where some were put on the state payroll and worked at State House as so-called “protocol girls”, who had some clerical duties but were mainly on call to have sex with the president.
The BBC could not verify the allegation, but a former Gambian official, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said he was aware of “inappropriate things” happening at the presidency: “Protocol staff were mostly women and they were hired to satisfy the president’s fantasies.”
He remembered seeing Ms Jallow at State House, sometimes at “odd hours”.
Another woman, hired as a protocol officer at the age of 23, told HRW she was forced to have sex with Mr Jammeh in 2015.
The woman, who asked not to be named, said that one day the president called her into his room: “He started undressing me and saying that he was in love with me, that he will do anything for me and my family, that I should not tell anyone because if I do I will face the consequences.
“I felt I had no choice. That day he slept with me without protection.”
Another woman who worked as a protocol officer said that they knew if one of them was called it was for sex.
“Some wanted it. They felt honoured or wanted the money,” she told HRW on condition of anonymity.