Catherine Zemmouri, BBC News, April 5, 2006
A French court has found an African woman guilty of sexual violence, torture and acts of barbarity against two young Togolese girls.
Mimi Tele Mensah, 50, also from Togo, was sentenced to six years in jail, with no option of parole.
An appalling level of abuse was described during the trial in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre.
The court heard how the victims were kept as virtual slaves — a phenomenon which is on the increase in France.
“It is a relief, and it is also the recognition of the fact that we are victims,” said Olivia, one of the Togolese plaintiffs, after the criminal court sentenced Mensah, who was also found guilty of illegal employment.
The events began in 1990, when Mensah went to her country and brought the then 15-year-old Olivia back to France with the promise to her parents she would receive an education in return for a few hours’ babysitting.
But the reality turned out to be completely different.
Once in Paris, Olivia was locked up in the house working 20 hours a day, and told to sleep in the basement.
She was badly beaten up, burned with cigarettes and sexually abused every time she was accused of making a mistake in her housework.
The same mistreatment was applied to Mirabelle, the second Togolese plaintiff, who was brought to Paris few years later when Olivia managed to run away.
The case has been classified as “slavery” by a campaigning organisation called the French Committee Against Modern Slavery (CCEM).
One of their spokeswomen, Zina Roubah, told me that over the last five years the phenomenon has been on the increase.
She says her organisation is dealing with 400 cases a year, and more than half of those involve under-age African girls, brought into slavery and mistreated in France by Africans.
Those figures are just the tip of the iceberg, she says, since the victims are often under family pressure and are not aware of their rights to speak out about the nightmare they are going through.