“We are against the shaming culture we have here in Morocco, and the hate that comes with it. This hate has consequences.”
Rabat – By all appearances, a teenage Moroccan girl was flirting with men over social media and requesting cards Moroccans use to recharge phone credit. Those paying to top up “her” internet data did not know that their exchange was deceiving. The men also did not realize the nude photos from the internet enticing them were illegitimate. Instead the interested men were buying into a case of Moroccan cyber bullying in the form of extortion.
A perpetrator stole photos from the teenager’s social media page to create a fake account, impersonate her, and handle transactions. The perpetrator reached out to the teenager and demanded she also send him phone recharge cards or else he would further destroy her reputation.
Women and young girls in Morocco are coming out in force to share their experiences of cyber bullying and shaming.
Most forms of the attack involve the sharing of images, videos, or information about an individual without their permission. According to victims’ testimonies, there are two modes of the attacks that have been most popular.
The first is what some termed “classic revenge porn,” a misuse of visual materials, sometimes involving sexually explicit or nude images. Often women’s partners or ex-partners spread them as a form of coercion to continue a relationship or as punishment for ending one. Revenge porn is also taking shape under threats that if women do not send nudes, the perpetrator will reveal private information or spread rumors to the victim’s family.
A number of women have also reported being blackmailed, bribed, extorted, or threatened to be raped if they do not cooperate with the demands of the men cyber-abusing them.
Some men are creating exclusive social media pages to collect and share such images, offering special incentives for other men acquiring images and contributing to their platform. Others are hacking women’s computers and social media accounts to leak information and photos.
In the second most common form of the attack, perpetrators cyber bully in the name of “purifying the country.” They identify women in photos with insulting captions or manipulated images to humiliate and shame the woman and/or her family.
Social media pages have formed with the description: “We have to stop slutting.” People create pages to identify women they deem as “sluts” in respective cities across the country. The pages share images of women and captions using vulgar words or rumors to describe them and call them out as impure or against religious and cultural values.
Oftentimes, users share personal information including the girls’ phone numbers, addresses, and family names with the photos to encourage harassment and promote public shaming.
The cyber bullying is crippling victims with fear in Morocco. Many women face the risk of psychological or physical violence.
“Hshuma” in Arabic means “shame.” However, the impact of hshuma is far-reaching and extends beyond personal anguish and the damaging of a personal reputation.
Society recognizes hshuma as a social or cultural issue, encompassing the dignity and honor of one’s family and peers. To lose face in Moroccan society can have devastating implications. A community might reject a shamed individual. Individuals may also face isolation from their family, violence, and restricted employment opportunities.
The thought of bringing hshuma to themselves and their family terrorizes women and girls.
Enough with the humiliations
Diha F’Rassek, Arabic for “mind your own business,” is a recent movement on Instagram. It is focusing on raising awareness about the widespread circulation of photos perpetrators are using to humiliate and shame young girls and women.
“Since the beginning of Ramadan, we started [individually] receiving a lot of messages from people complaining of revenge porn and asking us for advice,” explains Sophia, one of the three founders of the movement.
Sophia, Houda, and a third person who wishes to remain anonymous all have personal Instagram pages they dedicate to raising awareness on critical issues. The topics include mental health, domestic violence, women’s issues, and sex education. They believe the issues are important, and unfortunately often taboo in Moroccan society.
The three friends, all in their mid-twenties, believe the open-minded nature of their social media accounts inspired the 100-plus young women to reach out and confide in them.
After learning of the overwhelming number of women facing sexual exploitation over the internet, the three joined forces and created Diha F’Rassek. In three days, the page reached nearly 3,400 followers and gained the support of celebrities and renowned influencers.
“We are not activists, we are not an association, we are just a group of friends active on social media,” Sophia said. “Our goal is really to end this phenomenon of shaming on the internet.”
“We are against the shaming culture we have here in Morocco and the hate that comes with it. This hate has consequences. It’s not possible to see this without acting.”
Sophia added that they created the Instagram account after they started to hear girls talking about committing suicide as a result of the shaming. The movement aims to mobilize as many people as possible in an effort to raise awareness about the issue and in hope that people and the authorities will take it more seriously and support the girls.
The group has shared a number of victims’ testimonies and are referring some to a local association that may be able to offer psychological and legal assistance.
More work to do after 2018 law
In 2018, Morocco criminalized all forms of violence against women and public harassment, including cyber crimes. However, women are still struggling to attain justice.
Under Law 103-13, articles 447-1 and 447-2 of the criminal code dictate penalties for cyber attacks. Anyone capturing, recording, broadcasting, or disseminating someone’s private information, statements, or pictures without their approval can be subject to six months to three years in prison and a fine ranging from MAD 2,000 to 20,000.
The law specifies that anyone intentionally aiming to harm someone’s private life or reputation is also subject to prosecution.
While legislation is a good start, the Diha F’Rassek founders believe Morocco will need to reevaluate cultural norms and taboo topics in order for victims to have the space to comfortably testify. Many women experience victim blaming under such circumstances and are too embarrassed to come forward with allegations.
In one recent case, a young man sent his friend revealing photos of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend. The friend circulated the photos along with the girl’s phone number, and daily harassment and humiliation ensued.
The young girl reported the situation to the police, who said it would not be possible to file a complaint without her parents. The girl’s concern over her parents’ reaction has prevented her from taking further action, and she continues to receive daily threats and harassment, living in fear her family will find out.
Social media platforms have made attempts to remove pages and censor potentially harmful content. However, between the speed of electronic sharing and the ease of creating new accounts, the men responsible for these crimes have continued their schemes.
Diha F’Rassek hopes that their movement will spread even more rapidly and calls on all Moroccans to join them in supporting the protection of women who are increasingly vulnerable in the age of social media.
“It is our duty as Moroccan citizens to lend a strong hand to the young generations and make sure our girls are respected and can grow up in a healthy environment that protects their dignity. Let’s all fight and offer a better Morocco for the next generation of young women.”