Moroccan police have arrested 12 men in connection with the rape and torture of a 17-year-old girl, in a case that has sparked uproar across the country.
In a television interview aired last week, a girl identified only as Khadija, revealed that she had been kidnapped by a gang in June and held for two months, during which she was repeatedly raped, tortured and forcibly tattooed. Footage of Khadija showed expletives, crude drawings and even swastikas tattooed across her body alongside cigarette burns and bruises.
A judge-led investigation is currently under way in the city of Beni Mellal – those arrested are aged between 18 and 27, an official told AFP. The main suspect, a 20-year-old man, faces charges of rape, torture, kidnapping, making death threats and forming a gang.
Kidnapped from the door of her aunt’s house during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Khadija was held in an empty warehouse for two months.
I tried to escape several times, but I was caught and beaten. They tortured me, they did not give me food or drink, and they did not even allow me to take a shower
she told Moroccan station Chouf TV.
Khadija’s father eventually struck a deal with the gang, where they agreed to release her if he promised not to tell the police. She said she was driven home on a motorcycle and dumped outside her house.
The case has prompted outrage in the country, with hundreds protesting online under the hashtags “Justice for Khadija” and “We are all Khadija”. Some 25,000 people have also signed a petition calling for Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to intervene and provide psychological and medical care for Khadija.
Last August, hundreds took to the street in protests after another video emerged showing the aggressive sexual assault of a young woman with learning difficulties by a group of teenagers on a bus.
According to Morocco’s National Human Rights Council in 2015, more than 20 per cent of Moroccan women have been sexually abused at least once in their lives, with three quarters of women experiencing some form of sexual harassment in public.
The country has recently seen a rise in innovative mobile applications in an effort to protect women. Earlier this year, Moroccan entrepreneur Nidal Azhari launched her mobile application called Manchoufouch, which enables women to report incidents of harassment or violence at the time and location of the incident. In February a new app called Finemchi (“Where am I going?”) also launched, which suggests local places that are verified safe spaces for women should they need them.
Earlier this year, Morocco passed a law criminalising abuse against women, including all “acts considered forms of harassment, aggression, sexual exploitation or ill treatment”, but the bill was criticised for failing to mention the problem of marital rape and aspects of the Family Law which sets women as at disadvantage.
The first hearing in Khadija’s case is due to take place at Beni Mellal court on 6 September.