Huge demonstrations against rape were held across Morocco on Tuesday, driven by a viral video that depicts three young men forcibly undressing a woman and sexually assaulting her on a bus, while other passengers laughed and cheered.
“In the video, the young girl’s helpless cries pierce through the cruel laughter of her assailants. Desperately trying to free herself from the merciless grasps of her attackers, the girl is pulled left and right, her shirt and pants pushed down to denude her flesh,” reports Morocco World News, which describes the victim as “mentally challenged.”
The assault was documented not by an onlooker, but by one of the rapists themselves, using a smartphone camera. Applause and laughter from other passengers can be heard in the background. The bus did not stop during the assault, and no one came forward to help the victim until a man can be heard telling the teenage assailants to “get away from her.”
Frames extracted from the video were posted online by outraged citizens, leading to at least six arrests as of Tuesday, according to Al-Arabiya, which posted smartphone video footage of one suspect’s arrest.
International Business Times adds that all six of the individuals arrested are aged 15 to 17. The bus company is still attempting to determine if the driver deliberately “failed to react” to the assault.
Civil rights activists held up the assault as evidence of Morocco’s deep problems with rape.
“This is unbelievable! It looks like we’re living in the jungle now, because this is not sexual harassment, this is gang rape in a public space in front of everyone!” Fouzia Assouli of the Moroccan Federation of the Democratic League of Women’s Rights told Morocco World News.
“What does it mean to have a State exactly? Isn’t the government supposed to assure the security of its citizens?! What does it mean to have people witnessing such a crime without moving a finger?” Assouli asked.
She accused the Moroccan government of dragging its feet on legislation against rape for years, sending a message to young people that such behavior will be tolerated. “The State, government, and parliament are directly responsible of what is happening today, they are encouraging this, they are responsible,” she charged.
“We cannot be silent about this terrible incident; the poor girl was taken advantage of. Furthermore, rape has become so redundant in Morocco that it is almost normal,” said activist Zahra al-Faisawl, as quoted by Al-Arabiya.
“We all should unite against these phenomena to suppress them out of society so as not to ruin and rotten the moral level of Moroccans,” al-Faisawl urged. “Every day we hear about a new scandal. It is about time to start punishing the harassers and criminals and protect women from them by tightening the current sanctions. There are victims who are daily subjected to sexual harassment and rape, but they don’t come forward because they are afraid.”
Moroccans have been involved in a number of high-profile stories about sexual assault over the past few years. Pop star Saad Lamjarred was accused of violently assaulting a 20-year-old French woman in a Paris hotel in October 2016; he was already wanted by the U.S. government for skipping bail after a woman accused him of beating and raping her on a date six years ago. Another French-Moroccan woman came forward to accuse him of rape in February 2017, claiming she was pressured into dropping her complaint by her relatives.
Moroccan boxer Hassan Saada was arrested at the Olympic village in Brazil on charges of attempting to rape two chambermaids in August 2016. He was released from Brazilian custody without bond in June 2017 and allowed to return home to Morocco pending trial.
Also in August 2016, a teenage girl who said she was abducted and raped by a gang of eight men died after setting herself on fire, despairing of justice and terrified by threats of retaliation from the perpetrators. The suspects had all been arrested based on her complaint but were provisionally released by the prosecutor. Six of the eight suspects were re-arrested after the girl’s death. A post-mortem examination revealed she was pregnant when she died.