Calls In Morocco To No Longer ‘Turn A Blind Eye’ To Rampant Sexual Abuse

This week, a 17-year-old Moroccan girl named Khadija was returned to her family after being held captive for two months, where she was repeatedly gang-raped, starved, beaten, withheld from basic hygiene, and where she had her whole body tattooed with Nazi symbols and explicit statements and images. A video has since spread on social media showing the girls defaced body, which allegedly was of such a shock to her mother she fainted when seeing her upon release. The brutality of this incident has sparked a public outcry among the online community, including an online petition named “We are all Khadija” which has received 75,000 signatures, which seeks to provide rehabilitative care to Khadija, along with pressuring the government to improve the conditions for women in Morocco, where abuse has become the norm.

Violence toward women is endemic in Morocco and is further ensued both through cultural entrenchment and a lack of legislation. Last year alone, over 6000 women were found to have suffered psychological difficulties because of gender based violence, according to a study by Moroccan Association for Women’s Rights. The study later reported over 5000 accounts of physical violence including 237 cases of attempted murder and 241 accounts of hostage taking. Additionally, it reported another 622 instances of sexual violence. However, it must be noted that reports such as these are merely the ‘tip of the iceberg’ due to widespread underreporting caused by a fear from women of being blamed themselves for the abuse because of social stigma within the country. In fact, according to a study in the New Arab, only 3% of instances of violence towards women are reported. Furthermore, the entrenchment of violence towards women can be noted by the United Nation’s Women’s Department survey concluding that in Rabat, 41% of men believed marital rape to be justifiable if they are providing financial support. This concurs with the New Arabs conclusion that 55% of reported acts of violence towards women occurs by a husband to their wife.

This cultural norm of violence towards women, and social stigma surrounding sexual assault has been made prevalent through conflict surrounding Khadija’s case. Some people have accusing her of ‘faking it,’ ‘asking for it,’ or ‘being at fault,’ as she allegedly was seen days before outside of the home with a group of young boys who supposedly were known drug uses. Accusers include Houcine Harshi, the President of the Moroccan Association for the Defence of Human Rights. Furthermore, Hachane, a member of Morocco’s Association for Human Rights has commented on this accusation stating that, “Unfortunately the machismo culture makes some people blame her for what has happened to her.” However, others of the community have also commented in her defense, such as neighbour and social worker Abdelwahed Saadi who has stated that, “She is a minor who has been abused and raped, it must be taken seriously.” Moreover, the support she has gathered through social media is also pressuring the local community to view her rightfully as the victim in this situation.

Sadly, this story is not alone in extreme violence towards women in recent years. Last August, a video leaked of a group of teenagers sexually assaulting a woman with learning disabilities on a public bus, to which, no one on the bus intervened. And another in March, where a young girl was tackled to the ground in the street and stripped. Additionally, in 2014 and 2016, there were two separate instances of teenage girls taking their own lives after being raped.

The government in Morocco has been largely ineffective in instigating measures to combat violence towards women. According to The Advocates and Mobilisation for Rights Associations in 2014, since 2004 polygamy remains legal, men can divorce their wives without cause, women have minimal economic rights in regards to marriage and divorce, and in legislation mothers are discriminated against and made vulnerable to abuse. Despite minimal changes to law, such in 2014 the abandonment of the law which allowed for child rapists to escape punishment if they married their victims, and amendments to laws in February, which criminalized some forms of domestic violence, the legal conditions for women in Morocco largely prevent improvements to their conditions. Moreover, the cultural entrenchment of discrimination towards women as shown through previous statistics suggests that unless dramatic cultural change takes place, it is likely that unfair conditions and experiences for women are likely to continue.