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Olivia Zinnah, Subject Of Upcoming Child Rape Documentary, Dies

by Tambay A. Obenson
January 8, 2013 6:21 PM
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Small Small Thing

Sad to report on the death of Olivia Zinnahthe young girl who is at the center of an upcoming feature documentary I profiled in August, 2012 - titled Small Small Thing - directed by Jessica Vale.

The film, 3+ years in the making, is complete, and has been submitted to several film festivals, and should world premiere some time this spring.

It tells the story of a mother and daughter in Liberia, who find themselves fighting tradition, when it is discovered that the 9-year-old had been brutally raped 2 years prior. 

The film begins with the discovery of a nine year old girl in the hospital, severely malnourished and handicapped. Believing the cause of her injuries to be witchcraft, the village elders (and her mother) hide the girl for 2 years as her condition worsens. A visiting medical team draws the conclusion that she was brutally raped. The film follows the journey over the course of the next 9 months, as the life of this little girl and her mother, shunned from their village for seeking outside help.

I received notification this afternoon from director Jessica Vale, alerting me to Olivia Zinnah's passing on December 20, as a result of the long-term complications of the brutal rape she suffered at age 7.

She was 13 at the time of her death.

The unfortunate further details from the email I received follow:

Vale discovered Olivia at JFK Memorial Hospital in January 2009 along with a visiting husband-and-wife OBGYN team from New York City – Ann Marie Beddoe and Peter Dottino. Olivia was suffering from a severe fistula, infections and malnutrition. She was gravely ill and her condition had been deteriorating for two years. Liberian surgeons initially attempted to fix the fistula but botched the surgery. Her mother, Bindu, did not originally seek medical attention for the girl because their remote tribal village diagnosed her as a victim of “witchcraft.” After two years, Olivia was brought to JFK where Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, head of OBGYN, determined Olivia's injuries were a result of rape. At that time, Olivia named her cousin John as her attacker, who was in his twenties at the time of the incident. The family and John denied the accusations, shunning Olivia and Bindu from their village, forcing them to live at the hospital. American surgeons operated on Olivia, saving her life. They gave her a colostomy bag and determined the fistula was so severe it could not be fixed until she was 16 years old and her body had matured. Olivia and Bindu were then sent to live at a safe home for rape victims [...] In December 2012, Olivia was rushed to JFK with a bowel obstruction. Dr. Jallah was unable to get approval for emergency surgery. Olivia's condition worsened and U.S. doctors insisted Olivia receive an operation to save her life. Days later, Olivia finally undergoes a colostomy surgery, but it was too late. She died two days later at 13.

In a statement, Vale said:

“I hope the release of ‘Smallsmall 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?”

According to UN statistics in 2012, rape is still the #1 crime in Liberia, despite President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's efforts (and Nobel Peace Prize); the majority of the victims are said to be children - some as young as 2 years old.

Small Small Thing is the result of investigations by the filmmakers, revealing what they call "an intricate web of corruption, adventure and hope."

There's a lot more to this story, so feel free to visit the project's website HERE.

As noted, the film has been submitted to festivals all over the world, and will debut on the festival circuit this year.

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  • Hope | March 8, 2014 5:05 PMReply

    I hope one day, all evil persons will perish from this world

  • Djamel B. | March 6, 2014 1:25 PMReply

    It was very difficult to watch such horrific injustice inflicted upon fragile littllbeings.what shocked me more was tose two policemen(&policewoman)who were sitting and talkng at the same time incoherently and saying they don't have a car to go and investigate and they seem to be bewildered by the notion of forensics.all this seems to favour rapists and that is very wrong .

  • Bondgirl | January 9, 2013 8:30 PMReply

    "The majority if the victims are said to be children-some as young as 2 years old." That entire village failed this child. What a disgrace. What kind of sick individual gets erections from a 2 year old .

  • Troy | January 10, 2013 3:43 PM

    It doesn't take a village to rape a child but it does take one to completely condemn one. Peace world for you know not what you could have been.

  • BluTopaz | January 9, 2013 12:54 PMReply

    Only a demon is capable of committing a crime like this. Apparently there are a lot of them, and they have enablers. This film sounds very difficult to watch but I would like to see it. Also, it would be nice if enough people cared for this post to get half the replies as the bitch fests.

  • sandra | January 9, 2013 11:41 AMReply

    God, help us all! The world is in need of love, honesty and courage. This is a crisis. How many more stories of this kind? Whether it be at the hands of rebels, foreign soldiers or family members, we females can't seem to catch a break. Same goes for the U.S. We are treated as subhuman at times. If you are a child/woman of color than God help you! We have got to do better. Men, boys, fathers, brothers, uncles we need you! ***** I have decided to search for a reputable charity that supports the education of women in Africa so that I may add to the list of charities I support. ***** Every little bit helps. RIP little Olivia. No one can hurt you now.

  • Troy | January 10, 2013 3:41 PM

    The world is CRISIS. Human existence is the culprit. We are all complicit. Everything we buy has blood on it. Every moral indignation has a blood trail leading to the establishment of morals. Morals have a need to spread like a virus for they must classify the positive and negative making criminals and victims out of all of us. Death is our answer to our curse of life in a world where our only place is to destroy. We our nothing to existence or our ecosystem to which we are intimately connected to everything from the dirt beneath our feet to the stars in the farthest galaxy. Enjoy your time as destroyer of worlds.

  • saadiyah | January 8, 2013 8:31 PMReply

    This is absolutely disgusting!! Girls and women all over the world are routinely subjected to this kind of brutality with little or no punishment meted out to the males who commit these inhumane acts. How is it that from America, to India, to Africa some of the male population have no qualms about brutally raping (and torturing) women/girls? What's more sickening is that these animals have supporters and defenders in their communities, many of them are even female!!

  • troy | January 10, 2013 3:35 PM

    Yes they have defenders. Their mothers and grandmothers. We are all complicit.

  • JMac | January 8, 2013 8:15 PMReply

    My god, I can't imagine all that must have happened to cause such severe injuries and her eventual death... and at such a young age. Disgusting. Terrible. All one can hope is her death will spur action globally.

  • starry118 | January 8, 2013 7:34 PMReply


  • Tracey | January 8, 2013 7:28 PMReply

    There are no words to describe how much this saddens me. That poor little girl. To survive the rape, then all of the screw ups to get her initial medical care, the shunning, and then to end it all like's just truly heartbreaking. I'll have to check out more info. I cannot even comprehend what can be done to turn things around when it is so deeply embedded in too many people's minds as a crime that isn't actually a crime.

  • ms.jjstone | January 8, 2013 7:13 PMReply

    This is heartbreaking.

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