A debate over sexual violence has broken out on Moroccan media following an assault on a teenage girl – recorded by the attackers in order to blackmail her. Experts say a fundamental change in education is necessary.
A teenage girl wearing in a school uniform is lying in the street. She’s screaming, defending herself with all her might. A young man is kneeling on her chest, in broad daylight, violently yanking down her trousers, grabbing her buttocks and genitals. The 50-second video, filmed by the attacker’s friend, shows an incident that, according to the Moroccan media, is believed to have happened north of Marrakesh in early January.
However, it only became public knowledge yesterday, when the perpetrator and his friend published the video to humiliate the sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, after she refused to give in to their attempts at blackmail. The girl herself had kept silent about the attack for more than two months; she hadn’t even told her family about it.
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Divided reactions show societal split
In just a few days the video has spread like wildfire on social media, and has caused considerable uproar. It’s even acquired a dedicated hashtag on Twitter and Facebook: #واش_ماعندكش_ختك (#dontyouhaveasister) – something the schoolgirl says in the video while pleading with her attacker.
Users are divided in their responses. Some try to outdo each other in proposing the harshest punishments for rapists, or giving advice on how women can defend themselves, while others blame young women, saying they’re too permissive or encourage assault through their dress or actions.
One respondent took a practical approach and offered a step-by-step guide for self-defense moves:
Government and society don’t do enough
The basic tenor of many of the reactions is that Moroccan government and society are not doing enough to combat sexual violence. On several occasions the government has in fact responded to massive public pressure following instances of sexual violence. (Both suspects in the current case have been arrested.) When King Mohamed VI pardoned Daniel Galvan Vina, a man convicted of numerous acts of child molestation, in 2013, the protests on the street and on social media were so fierce that the king was forced to retract the pardon and visit the families of the victims. A first in the Moroccan monarchy’s history.
Other cases, such as the suicide of a 17-year-old in the summer of 2016 after her eight rapists were released, or the circulation of a video showing the rape of a young disabled woman on a bus last summer, caused a public outcry that resulted in a tightening of the laws on sexual violence. Recently, in mid-February, after much debate, the parliament passed a new law that envisages the extension of prison sentences from one month to up to five years, and fines of up to 1,000 euros, for every crime based on sexual discrimination that causes women physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.
Rights group: Punishments are not enough
The law, which is due to come into force this September, has been criticized by local and international civil society organizations for not offering women sufficient protection during an ongoing trial, and not defining domestic and conjugal violence clearly enough.
Khadija Ryadi, a Moroccan human rights activist who was awarded the United Nations Human Rights Prize, is also of this opinion. But the former president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights believes the fundamental problem lies elsewhere. “The government’s swift reactions are aimed primarily at placating public anger. In reality, it lacks the political will for a real solution,” she says. For Ryadi, severe punishments on their own – if they are ever imposed – are not enough to combat sexual violence. Rather, what is needed is an educated and enlightened society, and schools that take their educational responsibilities seriously. “But that’s exactly what the rulers have been preventing since the 1980s – because they fear a critical, educated and confident public that could challenge their illegitimate power,” Ryadi says.