Morocco Passes New Law Making Sexual Harassment A Criminal Offense With Jail Time

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The Moroccan government has passed a major new law that says sexual harassment is now a crime punishable with up to 6 months jail time. It is most definitely a cause for celebration, especially since this piece of legislation was originally drafted 3 years ago and it took that long for it to finally be voted on.

The architect of this bill is Bassima Hakkaoui, the Minister of Family and Solidarity, who amended the draft on International Women’s Day this year to broaden the definition of sexual violence. In the 3 years it took for the Minister to write a second draft and push it through the government channels, the addition of a strong definition of domestic violence and the criminalization of marital rape has been included which many activists and organizations pushed for.

A sexual harasser can now face up to 6 months in prison with a fine of 2000 to 10,000 Moroccan dirhams. The law doubles in penalties if the perpetrator is involved in maintaining order and security, as well as if the victim is a women or a minor. Additionally, If the perpetrator harasses a minor, comes from the victim’s family, or has power over the victim’s assets, the punishment will consist of jail time ranging from three months to five years with a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 Moroccan dirhams, according to MuslimGirl.com.

The law declared the definition of sexual harassment includes unsolicited acts, statements, or signals of a sexual nature, which are delivered in person, online, or via telephone. Along with harassment, there are measures stipulating punishment for people who try to force someone into a marriage using violence or the threat of violence.

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This particular crime holds a MAD 10,000 to MAD 30,000 penalty as well as jail time ranging from six months to one year. The Moroccan Times states that the law applies to both genders alike, though sexual harassment against women is most common than the other way around.

Khadija Al-Rouissi, a representative from the Authenticity and Modernity Party, criticized the government’s extremely slow uptake on getting this bill passed in a weekly address at the House of Representatives.

“During the government’s failure in this field, [gender-based] violence has increased to affect 40% of women and 50% of cases of abuse against women remain untried in court files. A 2009 government survey also found that nearly two-thirds of women had experienced physical, psychological, sexual, and economic violence. Some 55 percent of the two-thirds of women reported “conjugal” violence.

A 2016 Moroccan Crime and Safety Report by the US Dept. of State outlines how harassment and discrimination is still a big problem in the country.

Harassment of women is somewhat prevalent in both urban and rural areas. Moroccan men will often engage in whistling/hissing/staring/yelling and, on occasion, inappropriate physical contact. In 2015, there was an uptick in reports of sexual assaults and rapes. Incidents of assaults and harassment typically affect woman who are walking alone at night. However, assaults have also taken place in broad daylight and at public events with many witnesses,” it states, adding that there is also a lot of discrimination directed at the LGBT community as homosexuality is illegal there.

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The new law is a very progressive and important move in the country, and hopefully it will have a widespread cultural effect for women knowing there is a system in place to punish sexual harassment, and for perpetrators who have too long hid behind the anonymity of a Patriarchal culture that in many places does not view gender violence as anything other than normal.

In the lead up to the Moroccan gov’t passing this bill, Human Rights Watch teamed up with Moroccan performer Mounia Magueri on a video (below) showing the lengths society will go to ensure violence and harassment toward women isn’t seen as “wrong”.

Mounia dresses up and plays the role of an abused wife, the husband, a police officer and a prosecutor. Each character (aside from the wife) easily dismisses the woman’s experience.

“My husband beats me. He abuses me. My family doesn’t help me. They just say ‘be patient, he’ll change.’ The first time, I went to the police. They didn’t believe me, they told me to go home,” she says as the wife.

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And let’s be clear, this is not just a new legislative landmark in Morocco alone. We’ve seen laws in China and Algeria stepping up the fight against domestic violence and sexual harassment, just to name a couple. With the pressure put on by activist organizations, increasing media coverage, and persistence by groups who are determined to see equal rights in places they have not always existed, we may start to see more of these laws being passed.

In 2015 the Moroccan Ministry of Justice and Freedoms implemented tougher measures as part of the Penal Code against rape, where it was defined as an act by which a man has sex with a woman against her will, and severely punishes the offender. Anyone charged with raping a minor, elderly, disabled, or a mentally disabled person gets 5 to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to MAD 200,000. The draft law increases the sentence when the crime is accompanied by violence.

Three years is far too long to wait to have a law protecting victims of violence and harassment implemented, but at the same time it is better late than never.


 

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