Rabat – On August 20, a video showing a young woman being sexually assaulted inside a Casablanca bus shocked the Moroccan public, after being shared widely on news and social media.
The scene was especially disturbing as the perpetrators were revealed to be minors and the victim a mentally challenged person. Yet, shock grew bigger as a segment of social media users, as well as residents of the attackers’ neighborhood, came out in support for the attackers, finding justifications for their act.
The incident raises serious questions about Moroccan youth, the role of the media, and the moral direction of Moroccan society in general.
Boys with no Future
In December 2016, the Delegate General of the Moroccan penitentiary administration, Mohamed Salah Tamek, painted a bleak picture of the situation of Moroccan youth, revealing that the number of incarcerated Moroccan teenagers under the age of 20 increased had by 55 percent, and that the number of those under 18 was even bigger, with a 140 percent increase, 83 percent of which were in preventive detention.
The shocking figures showed that juvenile delinquency is on the rise in the kingdom, with more and more teenagers seeing no future but one of crime.
The boys involved in the bus sexual assault, aged between 15 and 17, appear to be among them.
They were already members of a gang, led by an individual with a criminal record, as reported by the local media. The gang was known to have previously engaged in robbery.
Police investigations revealed that the rape incident took place three months ago and was only leaked when a mobile of one of the attackers was stolen.
The fact that these boys turned to crime at such an early age raises serious questions about the factors that might have led to this situation.
“The spread of this phenomenon is proof that institutions, especially the family, are failing,” Mohamed El Baroudi, a psychologist who has researched teenage delinquency, told Morocco World News.
He explained that delinquents tend to be “aggressive towards society,” in order to prove they have “guts” and are “independent [and] autonomous.”
“[They suffer] from a lack of affection, and so [they try] to affirm [themselves] in this way,” said El Baroudi.
A Society in Moral Decadence
The rape attempt incident was quite unusual in comparison with other cases of rape, noted Moroccan sociologist Salah Laariny.
In a conversation with MWN, he explained how the Casablanca assault did not fit the general pattern of rape crimes.
“Rape is a social phenomenon, but it is usually committed in secrecy,” said Laariny. “The rapist has his own strategies to commit this act away from people’s eyes.” The bus incident broke this rule. It was carried out in full view on public transport. Added to that was the fact that it was documented by camera, and that the perpetrators appeared smiling and laughing during the assault.
“This is a complex incident in which we find elements of harassment, rape, publicity, and indifference to the people who were present,” observed the sociologist.
Despite the gravity of the crime, there was a kind of “solidarity” with the attackers from their community and some social media users, who put the blame on the victim, pointing to so-called indecent clothes she was wearing.
Some even went further, launching threats on Facebook to rape girls and women who had taken to the streets to show solidarity with the victim and protest against what they deemed a “rape culture” in society.
This attitude is seen by Laariny as sign of a “normalization with criminality,” where violent acts become tolerated and accepted by many.
Beyond normalization, however, the sociologist suggested we are witnessing a “dangerous moral decadence in Moroccan society.”
Media Attitude: Exploiting Instead of Understanding
Extensive coverage by the Moroccan media made the shocking event a hot topic, guaranteeing it more clicks and views. While doing so, some elementary journalism ethics were disregarded.
While several Western online media outlets, even those known for sensationalism, chose not to publish the video, a majority of Moroccan ones did not do the same. The video was widely published, often without any indication of the graphic nature of the footage.
On top of this, the faces of both the victim and her under-age attackers was shown, instead of being blurred.
In Laariny’s view, the media exploited the story, instead of using it to open a debate about the causes of the horrific incident.
To the sociologist, the media should play this role, as society, whose reaction largely did not go beyond an instant condemnation and an apology by some, failed to do so.
“The truth is that very few people tried to understand the the reasons for this incident,” said Laariny, pointing to the social milieu of the attackers who live in dysfunctional families, and are orphans or school drop-outs.
He said the teenagers’ behavior finds its roots in youth, education, urban, and health public policies.
“These are the true problematics that should be discussed, because similar incidents are going to be reproduced,” he warned, “the only difference being that this incident was documented.”