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Anna’s Story: Escaping Violence in Africa

A little girl from West Africa, Anna suffered an internationally recognized form of torture. With the help of our Immigration Law Project, her parents were able to keep her from suffering more.

*Please be aware that this story contains details of a violent act that may be upsetting to readers. 

Anna’s Story Escaping Violence in Africa

Many cultures celebrate a girl’s transition into womanhood with rich and wonderful traditions. Unfortunately, some cultures have rituals that are torturous. *Anna was a preteen who grew up in a conservative village in West Africa where female genital mutilation (FGM) was common practice.

Anna’s parents were firmly against subjecting Anna to the cruel tradition, however her grandmother thought that it was essential for Anna’s transition into adulthood. Anna’s grandmother would stop at nothing to have her granddaughter go through this rite of passage.

In the days leading up to Aenna’s 13th birthday, her grandmother hinted to Anna that the entire family would be holding a surprise party for her. She was extremely excited and as her grandmother instructed, kept it a secret. What Anna did not know was that the surprise would be something traumatic that would change her life forver.

An Unwelcome Birthday Surprise

The day of the party came and Anna’s grandmother led her to a faraway shack. Although it seemed suspicious, the young girl trusted her grandmother believing that this was part of the surprise. Four women grabbed the little girl and performed a horrific act of violence that would scar Anna for life.

Despite Anna’s misery and pain, her grandmother was ecstatic. The grandmother exclaimed that she was proud that Anna could now be considered a woman and started making plans to marry Anna off to a man more than twice her age.

Anna’s mother and father were shocked to learn what had been done to their precious daughter. But they also realized that although the physical damage was done, they could still save Anna from being a child bride and possibly facing even more abuse.

The young girl’s parents called Anna’s aunt, who lives in the United States and told her about the situation. She was stunned to learn the violence that was forced upon her young niece and discussed how they could rescue Anna from experiencing further violence.

The parents filed a visa and Anna was on her way to her Aunt to live in the United States. Upon Anna’s arrival, her aunt contacted her city councilperson for advice. The councilperson’s staff referred them to Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project (ILP) where legal experts could help Anna reach permanent safety.

Finding Safety in Asylum

ILP assigned Anna and her aunt a caseworker. Anna’s aunt told the caseworker that her niece had endured female genital mutilation (FGM). The ILP caseworker explained to Anna and her aunt that FGM is an internationally recognized form of torture and victims could file an asylum claim to help them escape future inhumane treatment.

The ILP caseworker guided Anna and her aunt through the steps of filing an asylum case and what would be involved. After completing the asylum paperwork, the caseworker prepared Anna for the forensic medical exam in which a doctor would confirm that she had been a victim of FGM. Along with her Aunt, the ILP caseworker made sure Anna felt comfortable with the doctor and had the exam explained to her to reduce her fear, understanding that the exam itself could further traumatize Anna by bringing back memories of the genital mutilation experience.

The ILP caseworker filed the doctor’s documents along with the application for immigration services. A month later, the necessary paperwork and interviews were completed and submitted. Anna was granted asylum. This means she can stay in the U.S. safely. But to ensure Anna wouldn’t have to endure abuse again, the ILP caseworker helped her apply for a green card.

Her entire family is relieved that the innocent young girl can now live freely with her Aunt in the United States without worrying about being subjected to more violence. During a follow up interaction with the ILP caseworker and Anna’s aunt, she told us that today,  Anna is doing exceptionally well in school and making the most of her new home with a group of new friends.

* Client names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy. Images used are representations of Safe Horizon’s clients.