'They raped and tortured me': How girl's ordeal sent shockwaves through Morocco
The case of a 17-year-old girl who was allegedly abducted, gang-raped and forcibly tattooed by a gang of 13 men has sparked outrage across Morocco, with thousands of people signing a petition on her behalf.
In a video interview with local TV channel ChoufTV last week Khadija Okkarou recounted her nightmare, describing how the men kidnapped her, raped her and held her captive in a house, where she was handed over to other men for sex in return for money.
The girl said she was held captive for two months, and left with burn marks and painful tattoos across her body.
'They held me for about two months, and raped and tortured me... I will never forgive them. They have destroyed me'
- Khadija, abducted Moroccan teen
“They held me for about two months, and raped and tortured me... I will never forgive them. They have destroyed me,” Okkarou said in the interview, showing what appeared to be scars from cigarette burns and tattoos carved into parts of her body.
Images show markings on her arms, neck, legs and back, including a swastika.
The news has sent shockwaves across Morocco, sparking a number of hashtags online in support of Okkarou. “We are all Khadija” and “Justice for Khadija” both attracted messages of support in Arabic on Sunday and Monday.
Translation: “Where is the Moroccan law and the king of Morocco, who should be standing up for her and ensuring justice is served. Or do they just stand up for those similar to themselves?”
In the video, Okkarou said she tried to escape several times, but each time she was caught and tortured as punishment for attempting to flee.
“They didn’t give me food or drink, and I was not even allowed to take a shower,” Morocco World News quoted her as saying.
Using the hashtag #WeAreKhadija both in Arabic and English, social media users started a petition urging King Mohammed VI to provide Khadija with the medical care she needs, both physical and psychological. More than 12,500 people had signed the petition on Monday at the time of publication.
“We hope to gather all actors of the civil society, organisations and associations, so we can voice our indignation and outrage for what happened to this young girl, and also to give her emotional support to rebuild her life and financial support to remove the tattoos,” the petition states.
Translation: “We call on the Moroccan authorities to quickly apprehend the perpetrators, bring them to justice and inflict maximum penalties on them. We demand that the civil society and human rights organisations stand by and help the victim.”
Many of the tweets criticised the judiciary and those in power for the number of sexual harassment and abuse cases in the country similar to Okkarou’s.
Translation: "There is no way in this circumstance that one can remain quiet about these monsters. The judiciary must take action, unless the judiciary in our country prioritises the oppressor over the oppressed.”
Naima Ouahli, of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, told the AFP news agency that 12 suspects in total had been detained. The girl's father said three suspects were arrested on Saturday in connection with her abduction and that a trial was set to begin on 6 September.
Sexual harassment is common in Morocco in spite of a new constitution adopted in 2011 that enshrines gender equality. In February, the kingdom passed a law on violence against women, but advocates say it fails to give police, prosecutors and judges guidance on how to handle sexual violence cases.
Morocco’s rate of reported rapes increased to 1,600 cases in 2017 from 800 in 2016, according to an annual report issued by the attorney general, Morocco World News reported.
Other recent cases of violence against women have also caused outrage in Morocco.
Last March a video of two men sexually assaulting a teenage girl in Rabat was circulated on social media.
Another video showing four boys between the ages of 15 and 17 assaulting a 24-year-old woman aboard a public bus in Casablanca also went viral online last summer. The boys were arrested and charged.
Bouchra Abdou, an activist, feminist and director of the Tahadi Centre rights group said in a statement that women's groups needed to “raise awareness and to use publicity and media tools to sensitise people. We call on the concerned parties to tighten the penalties for the perpetrators of this serious crime, and to take care of the psychological health of the victim,” Morocco World News reported.
Moroccan authorities were not immediately available for comment when approached by AFP.
AFP contributed to this report.