Africa

Private Togo group rescues victims of sexual violence

Founded with development aid, center seeks to help women victims recover from abuse, gain independence by learning a trade

Aurore Bonny   | 01.02.2021
Private Togo group rescues victims of sexual violence The girls are seen at the end of their training with their certificates Photo: Aurore Bonny - Anadolu Agency

KPALIME, Togo

Young women at a Togolese association are learning how to sew and make fabric as they try to put the realities of sexual and social abuse in the rearview mirror.

Afatsao Amasia is 21 years old and was raped at 15 by a sexagenarian married man and father of five. The rape resulted in pregnancy.

"When I was in high school, a stranger raped me," Afatsao told Anadolu Agency.

"I didn't know how to tell my parents about it because I was very scared. Two months after, my mum was worried about my health because she noticed I was pale. She took me to the hospital and they told us I was pregnant. My mum asked me how it happened. I reported my rape," she said.

Afatsao gave birth to a boy and her parents took care of the baby. She continued school but fell ill in a physical education class after which her family discouraged her from going on.

Sometime later, she recognized the suspect and he admitted to his crime. But, through an arrangement with her family, he was soon released after agreeing to take care of her and the baby.

However, he fled to another country with his family once released.

At 16 years old, Houndedjihou Totoe Elise decided to leave school by herself because she wanted to learn a trade and become "a great woman and seamstress."

Not taking kindly to her decision, her father sent her to marry an older man. She is now 21 years old.

After the loss of her father, Posika Akouvi Solime, 22, got married at sixteen. But her husband without means abandoned her. She volunteers as a street sweeper.

Chantal Dondive, the founder

Support in time of need

These young women are all members of the Aklala Batik Association based in Kpalime.

Founded in 2000 by Donvide Chantal Vikoum, the association hopes to help underprivileged, destitute, orphaned girls, or those who want to learn a trade and earn money to continue their studies.

"I have noticed that young women with talent don't have the means and it's on this basis that I created this association," Donvide told Anadolu Agency.

"We support these women with free training. In cases of rape, some of them no longer have confidence in men or in life in general, but we help them with personal development courses, training, and material support. They also receive psychological assistance and social work," she added.

Aklala Batik admits girls between 16 and 24. The center currently has a dozen girls and has welcomed around 400 since it was inaugurated on Sept. 23, 2017. It was built with a mere $6,000 provided by the development services of the Austrian government through a Togolese association.

"I met mother Chantal in a church. She told me about her center. She came to visit me, called me very often, and invited me to come and see how the other girls work. I hesitated because I didn't think I would be able to succeed. But, she encouraged me," said Afatsao.

Houndedjihou, meanwhile, was introduced to the center through one of her uncles, who lives near it.

After her training, she received a dressmaking kit and will soon move to the city. According to her benefactor, social services will issue an order forbidding her family from harassing her.

Awareness

Donvide also works outside the center with women abandoned by their husbands and receives other girls who fled their parents trying to force them into prostitution for tourists.

"They don't go to the tourists willingly. But their parents force them. Some mothers pay their daughters [skin] lightening creams to make them attractive to tourists. Others go to drop off their phone numbers at hotels where tourists flock," explained Donvide.

"For the duration of their training, the center takes care of the girls. Their accommodations, meals, and all their needs related to their training and their subsistence are the responsibility of the center," explained the founder.

She urged society to do more to help victims of sexual violence. "They didn't want to go through this. These acts made them distrustful and mean to people. They need to be approached, understood and loved in order to get them out of these situations."

"Awareness-raising is also needed to show young women that they're capable of doing great things," she added.

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