The vast majority of women survivors of sexual violence in Morocco have suffered violence from their intimate personal entourage, according to a recent study by the NGO MRA Women.
The research found that current or former husbands, fiances, and boyfriends represent the majority of perpetrators of sexual violence against women in Morocco.
Sexual violence against women most frequently occurs in private homes, the report said, but it can also occur in public spaces such as the workplace, schools, streets, and agricultural fields.
MRA Women detected a wide range of coercive behaviors among the perpetrators of sexual violence. These include the use or threats of physical constraint or violence, verbal pressure, manipulation, fraud, false promises, deceit, and betrayal of trust.
Recurring sexual violence acts
The NGO also found that the majority of women survivors of sexual violence in Morocco have suffered repeated violent acts, over extended periods of time.
To prevent their victims from denouncing the violence despite its recurrence, the study revealed, perpetrators use several methods, most notably blackmail. Perpetrators can use blackmail to force women to engage in continued sexual relations, marry them, or even extort money from them.
Sexual violence against women in Morocco has a wide range of psychological, physical, familial, social, sexual, and professional impacts on victims. In extreme cases, the report warned, violent acts can lead to unwanted pregnancies, suicide attempts, and prosecution or imprisonement of the victims for having sex outside of marriage.
The study highlighted that the majority of women survivors of sexual violence wait for a long period of time before seeking assistance from public authorities, mainly due to trauma.
Approximately 80% of women surveyed by the NGO — 1,021 in total — said they sought assistance from some in their entourage, most frequently a family member.
Reactions from families were mixed. They included supportive, neutral, and harmful responses.
Supportive responses included accompanying victims to public services, protecting them from the perpetrators, and providing them with financial and moral support.
Meanwhile, harmful responses included expelling the victims from the house, blaming them, and forcing them to marry the perpetrators.
Neutral responses included telling the victim to be patient and to not do anything.
Underreported sexual violence
The study also underlined that a large number of women survivors of sexual violence in Morocco do not report the violent acts to public authorities. And when they do report their experiences, most of them tend to withdraw their complaints during the legal process.
The reasons for not denouncing perpetrators include threats of being blamed or prosecuted themselves, the non-criminalization of marital rape, the lack of confidence in the judicial system, and the inability to meet related costs.
Another major issue is the way public authorities respond after women report an act of sexual violence.
“Public actors’ response to sexual violence cases tends to be limited to determining whether or not there was a pre-existing relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, rather than actively investigating and focusing on the coercive circumstances of the specific incident,” the study found.
To address some of these issues, the report presented a series of recommendations. The suggestions included addressing the gaps in current laws on sexual violence, focusing on the perpetrator and his actions rather than the relationship between him and the victim, implementing protection measures for women, and developing holistic strategies that respond to the different barriers women face when attempting to report sexual violence.