The subject of a new documentary entitled Small Small Thing has tragically died—leaving the rest of us to make sure that the culture responsible for her passing be dealt a fatal blow.
Olivia Zinnah of Monrovia, Liberia, was seven when she was brutally raped in her native country. On December 20, 2012, she died from the long-term systemic complications spurred by her sexual assault. She was only 13. While the alleged rape of 11-school girls at a state-run boarding school in a remote part of India drew headlines internationally, not as much attention has been given to Zinnah’s horrific story. The documentary, produced by Take My Picture, LLC, chronicles the physical and emotional struggles that came as a result of her rape.
The film also makes note of the problems plaguing areas across the world in which young girls are victimized, but often left without proper care as their abuse goes unreported.
According to reports, three years after Zinnah’s 2005 rape in a rural area outside of Monrovia, she had only received traditional healing—described as including “herbs and sorcery.” She was not taken to the doctor, nor were police called. However, once her uncle Lawrence Samuel visited the family in 2008 and witnessed the terrible state she was in and the poor treatment she received, he reported the crime and named the suspect – a family member – to the police.
She was then taken to Monrovia for medical attention and the Ministry of Gender was contacted. Gender Minister Julia Duncan Cassell explained to journalists, “We did everything we could to save her.”
In their 2011 report, Doctors Without Borders reported that 92 percent of females treated for rape in its Liberia facilities were under 18. A separate DWB study published in November said that of about 1,500 females treated in Monrovia clinics in 2008 and 2009 after rape, four out of 10 were younger than 12 and one in 10 were younger than 5. “Half the survivors were children aged 13 years or younger and included infants and toddlers,” the report revealed.
Liberia’s country’s Gender Ministry did make efforts to draw attention to Zinnah’s death, though her passing initially was limited to coverage in local media. Zinnah died of an infection in a Monrovia hospital a week before Christmas, making her the fourth girl last year to succumb to rape-related injuries in the West African nation.
On her death, Small Small Things director and producer Jessica Vale said: “I hope the release of Small Small Thing will pressure the Liberian government to find Olivia’s accused rapist and bring him to trial. Olivia was Liberian, but her voice is global. How many times, in how many countries does this have to happen for people to pay attention?”
Liberian U.N. Ambassador Nathaniel Barnes echoed Vale’s sentiments: “Olivia was brave beyond her years facing her terrible dilemma with super-human courage. Perhaps her life, though short and tragic, was intended to provide us with valuable lessons.”
Small Small Thing has been submitted to numerous festivals and should be making its premiere later this spring. A petition has been started to get a statement on Olivia Zinnah’s death from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. You can add your signature here.