The following post is written by Lindsey Faraj – April 2019, and posted here as a means for her to share her experience.
What follows is my personal experience in reporting a case of sexual harassment in Marrakech, Morocco. Like many other things here in Morocco, there are no set procedures for reporting such things, so this merely reflects my own personal experience and simply provides an idea of what the process may look like for others seeking information on reporting sexual harassment in Marrakech.
In the Spring of 2019, I was followed by a middle-aged Moroccan male driving alongside me while on my daily walk near my home in Marrakech, Morocco. He drove slowly alongside me for several hundred meters, while I continued walking and ignoring him. Eventually, he parked his car ahead of me and got out, standing in the sidewalk where I was walking towards. I was visibly disturbed and walked around him. He continued following me and eventually exited his car again. I began recording on my mobile as I approached him and confronted him, demanding he stop following me or else I’d call the cops. He kept silent, saying ‘I didn’t follow you,’ and got back into his car and drove off. He stopped twice again, this time acting as if he were on the phone.
I immediately took the footage to the appropriate police station which can be found under ‘Prefecture De Police’ on Google Maps, located between the areas of Daoudiate and Ain Itti, directly north of the city center. I handed in my passport and phone in exchange for a ‘visitor’ badge and made my way to the second floor, office number 214. There was no one who spoke English, but eventually they called over an English-speaking female employee who assisted me in making a report. You must demand that someone who speaks English be called in to assist. She also copied the video footage onto her thumb drive. A Police Commissioner in charge overheard us speaking and vowed to take it seriously, and before I left (I was there for several hours), they were already looking for the car with the plate number provided in the video.
Two hours after leaving the police station, they called and asked that I return to the police station. I returned to the same office and found the man who had followed me sitting in the office. Be warned that this is common practice here – bringing the victim in to identify the suspect with no protection between the two, even in cases of physical assault. I confirmed that he was indeed the man in question, at which time he began pleading for me to forgive him, stating, “what crime did I commit, I only wanted to marry you? Please forgive me.” We argued while employees watched, seemingly entertained, until I demanded he leave me alone, at which time an employee finally demanded he remain quiet.
He was taken into police custody and I was told to come to the courthouse that Sunday morning. I asked what would happen if I could not attend this day/time and they insisted that he would be dealt with accordingly. Knowing what I know about legal processes here, I knew I needed to attend to be sure that this case was taken seriously. As I exited the police station, I discovered his mother and sister at the entry. They followed me to my car, begging me to forgive him. This involved them grabbing onto my arm repeatedly whilst bystanders just watched, ignoring my pleads for them to leave me alone.
On Sunday morning, I went to the aforementioned police station and followed an employee to the courthouse, located in Bab Doukkala. I was eventually brought into a room with a few men seated at desks, and the man in custody standing next to me. They asked me to describe again what happened, and I was then escorted out of the room while he presented his case.
While waiting, his family arrived and followed me around the courthouse, again begging that I forgive him, holding onto my arm, etc, whilst the people there watched and said nothing, including police officers and attorneys. At one point his sister collapsed to the floor and had what appeared to be a nervous breakdown, though the validity is questionable, as dramatic acts are normal here in order to bring about a desired outcome.
I was there for 3 hours total, and in addition to being begged nonstop by his family to discontinue the case, I was also asked by his lawyer and another employee of the court to drop the case. They seemed baffled that I would try proceeding with this case, calling it ‘normal.’ Despite this, I refused to discontinue and was given another court date the next morning.
I arrived to the courthouse on Monday on time and was ushered into a very crowded courtroom, where I stood and listened to dozens of cases of individuals while his sister, upon spotting me, stood next to me, again silently begging me to forgive him. The man and I were finally called up. They did not have an English translator, but they called over an English-speaker attorney to translate. I requested more time to prepare for the case, and was given a new court date in 2 weeks. One attorney then stated that the man in custody should be released, but another said no, so since an agreement wasn’t made, he remained in police custody.
I was then escorted out of the courthouse by the English-speaking lawyer and explained that I would not be in the country for the next court date. He claimed he would show me exactly which office to submit a notarized final statement to, and said he’d return with the case number in a few minutes. Almost an hour later, he was no where to be found – this was yet another ploy, I feel, to make it so difficult for me to proceed, that I’d eventually give up.
I then made my way back to the aforementioned police station to get the case number myself. By this time, I found the employees there very helpful and willing to assist me in the process.
The following day, I wrote a final statement and had it translated into Arabic. I returned to the courthouse but everyone I tried seeking help from refused to help me, brushing me off saying, “I don’t understand what you want to do.” Defeated, I left the courthouse and returned home to find a woman standing outside of my home. She was the boss of the man in custody, and had paid a lawyer to provide them my contact information. After confronting her about the severity of this breach of confidentiality, which she didn’t see as a significant deal, I agreed to let her accompany me to the courthouse in order to submit the final statement that I had previously tried submitting.
At this point, the offender had served 4 days in police custody. After a significant amount of time spent in reflection and discussion with others, both Moroccan and foreign, I chose, by my own accord, to drop the case for several reasons, feeling as though justice had been served. My decision was based on the fact that there was no physical touch whatsoever, and that this method of “pursuing” someone of interest, although completely unacceptable, is considered common, and to many even ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable,’ here (at least in larger cities of Morocco), and something that sometimes does indeed lead to the exchange of contact info between interested individuals. The fact that over a hundred individuals, between those involved at the police station and the countless individuals in the courthouse, were witnesses to a case of sexual harassment leading to the arrest of the suspect, I felt, was more effective at planting the seeds of change than was jailing this individual for several months or years.