OLD CHATHAM — A local woman says she was kidnapped from her home in West Africa and forced into marriage with a Columbia County man.

Alima Bonsa alleges the man traveled to her village in the West African country of Burkina Faso in 2001 and paid to marry her, despite her vocal opposition to the marriage.

Five months after the marriage, Bonsa said the man brought her to the United States, where he continued to inflict physical, sexual and verbal abuse on her for years.

Bonsa alleges the man also trafficked her mother, sister and niece, forcing the family to perform back-breaking physical labor on a farm in Old Chatham for no compensation.

“What was going on here in Columbia County was a plantation,” Bonsa said Thursday. “We were put working from sunup to sundown every single day.”

Bonsa told her story Thursday at a press conference hosted by the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement. The organization is working to support Bonsa and ensure she has adequate legal assistance, said Columbia County Sanctuary Movement Executive Director Bryan MacCormack.

Bonsa filed a restraining order against the man and filed for divorce in 2017.

She alleges that law enforcement agencies did nothing to stop the man from perpetrating the abuse and that her concerns were dismissed as a “complicated divorce.”

“The courts, police, and legal systems have continually miscarried justice by dangerously finding in favor of him, awarding him custody of her sister and niece,” according to a statement from the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement. “These are examples of a broken system that was not set up to serve her and other vulnerable women of color, which have resulted in decades of injustice.”

Human trafficking is defined as “the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act,” according to the Department of Homeland Security, which has launched the Blue Campaign to address widespread human trafficking in the United States.

“Traffickers might use violence, manipulation or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations,” according the Homeland Security website.

The Columbia County Sanctuary Movement is a nonprofit group that “organizes with immigrants and allies to collectively support, empower and defend our communities,” according to the organization’s website.

Staff and volunteers at the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement provide legal support for traffic tickets, court dates, immigration check-ins or checking immigration statuses.

More information about the organization can be found at 518-303-3848 or www.sanctuarycolumbiacounty.org.

Check back for more on this developing story.

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