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Senegal rape law offers hope after years of silence

DAKAR (Reuters) - A new law in Senegal that criminalizes rape has come too late for one young woman. She was raped last year and is now trying to put her life back together with a baby.

But the legislation brings hope to women who campaigned to force the West African nation to accept that rape must stop.

The young woman fled a violent husband and went to live with her sister. But a family friend gained her trust and raped her.

“It’s really hard to suffer a sexual assault but it is even harder to suffer a sexual assault that ends up in a pregnancy, I was really traumatized, I did not want to live anymore,” she told Reuters Television.

After trying to abort her baby and kill herself, the woman ended up in hospital. She was transferred to the Maison Rose, where she gave birth last year.

The Maison Rose, or the Pink House, in a suburb of Dakar, offers women support that had been lacking in a country where rape was a misdemeanor and not a crime.

“For some years now I feel women have wanted to stand up to say stop,” said Maison Rose founder Mona Chasserio.

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“Women said it needed to stop. They all said ‘Stop!’,” said member of parliament Awa Gueye.

Widely publicized cases of rape in Senegal paved the way for the change in the law. Women who had kept silent began to campaign to give a voice to rape victims, drawing confidence from the #MeToo movement in the United States.

After a unanimous vote in parliament to criminalize rape, President Macky Sall signed the decree into law on Jan. 10. Previously, rape drew a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and campaigners say convictions were rare. The new law sets a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life.

At the Maison Rose, the young victim is glad the law has changed and says the challenge now is to apply it.

Reporting by Christophe Van Der Perre, Yvonne Bell, Estelle Ndjandjo and Anna Pujol-Mazzini; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Janet Lawrence