In May 2019, the Moroccan government released the results of a survey showing that over 50% of Moroccan women have experienced sexual or gender-based violence (SGBV).
Rabat – In 2017, a UN survey asked men across Morocco if “women who dress provocatively deserve to be harassed.” Seventy-eight percent of Moroccan men agreed with the statement. Heading into 2020, little has changed, and Moroccan media outlets, social media users, and even judicial officials still comment on what female assault victims were wearing or doing, rather than unequivocally condemning the attack.
Following a recent viral video of a young woman, initially reported being a Moroccan citizen, screaming for help as a horde of Egyptian men grabbed at her, shouting insults, and tearing her clothes, an alarming number of Moroccans took to Facebook to the blame victim. Citing her choice of clothing, the social media users slut-shamed the young woman, rather than condemning her attackers.
Both men and women responded on Facebook to the video, originally posted by Al Yaoum 24, saying that the young woman in the footage deserved the attack. “The outfit she is wearing is the problem and is the reason for the harassment,” one male social media user commented. A woman responded to the comment saying: “Why is she outside at night almost naked? She deserves this, she is asking for it.”
Meanwhile, Alaraby newspaper reported that the woman, whom the Egyptian embassy in Rabat confirmed was not a Moroccan citizen, was “attacked due to her wearing a short skirt.”
While the media outlets do not explicitly blame the victim, they spent as many words describing the crime as they did her clothing and that she was not accompanied by a man while attending the New Year celebrations. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the woman is not depicted as a victim, in fact the word “victim” is not mentioned once in the Alaraby article. The journalist refers to the victim only as “the woman” or “the girl.”
Gender stereotyping and discrimination are endemic
In June 2019, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) released a report calling for the “eradication of legal obstacles and discriminatory judicial attitudes” in order to end gender-based violence in Morocco. The director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the ICJ, Said Benarbia, specifically spotlighted victim-blaming as a key issue.
He strongly recommended that Morocco’s government “ensure that detailed guidelines on investigation and prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes are developed and complied with, and that awareness-raising programs be rolled out to counter judicial stereotyping and victim-blaming.”
“Several flawed and discriminatory assumptions besetting the investigation and prosecution of SGBV offenses in Morocco often concern victim-blaming,” Benarbia told Morocco World News. He explained that “the notion of consent to sexual activity, and, more broadly, whether women’s behavior satisfies the socially acceptable norms” represents a serious problem in Morocco.
To illustrate his point more fully, Benarbia gave a case heard at the Beni Mellal Court of Appeals from February 10, 2011. The victim willingly got into a car with two men; however, when the men stopped in the outskirts of Takirt in a “narrow street” she cried and asked why they were stopping there.
Through violence, the two men forced her into a cement cabin and threatened her with a knife before raping her. A third man also came into the cabin and physically assaulted her before raping her.
The report on the case says that: “While the victim stated that they had intercourse with her without her consent and with the use of force, the circumstances here show that the victim agreed to go with the suspects, and since she has withdrawn her complaint, this proves that the intercourse was consensual.”
Here, Benarbia explained, through judicial victim-blaming, the victim became a perpetrator under Article 490 of the penal code, guilty of having extra-marital sex.
The ICJ regional director told MWN, “Such judgments are problematic because they subject victims to secondary victimization. Judgments that are based on inferring consent from circumstances, such as the victim’s agreement to accompany the perpetrator to his home or to be in his car, run counter to international law and standards, which require free, informed, full, genuine, prior and continued consent to a sexual act.”
Benarbia explained that in the 2019 country report, the ICJ recommends that Morocco launch training and monitoring programs for investigators, prosecutors, and judges to ensure the Moroccan judicial system can fight against SGBV by stamping out “groundless assumptions regarding the victim’s consent to sexual activity based on her purported ‘risk-taking’ behaviour.”
Only by wiping out judicial stereotyping, “the practice of judges and other actors of the justice system perpetuating harmful, patriarchal attitudes and gender-based stereotypes,” Benarbia argued, can Morocco start to meaningfully address the SGBV.
The ICJ representative told MWN that the NGO has held “numerous meetings and discussions with the Moroccan authorities on the legal and policy reforms needed to effectively address SGBV in the country.”
While some of the proposed reforms, including the reform of the family code and the abolition of polygamy, “do not appear to be on the agenda,” other recommendations are being addressed, if slowly.
However, Benarbia explained to MWN that “the proposed amendments to the criminal code, still fall short of international standards.” He cited “the adequate criminalization of SGBV offenses (rape, marital rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, etc)” as a key factor holding back Morocco’s progress.
So, how can Morocco hope to stamp out gender violence while victim-blaming remains the rule, even within the justice system?
The issue must now become a priority within the cultural and sexual education of Moroccan children, both male and female. Addressing the legal aspects is a start, but it is not enough. Until Moroccan society no longer views a woman’s choice of clothing, choice of company, or mere presence in harm’s way as an excuse for the inexcusable, SGBV will remain prevalent.