Mass demonstrations were held in a number of Moroccan cities in response to the collective sexual assault of a mentally disabled woman on a bus in Casablanca. Footage of the incident was spread across social media.
The protests, which took place in Casablanca, Rabat, Agadir, and Tangier, were staged simultaneously on the evening of Wednesday, August 23, with thousands declaring their interest online.
The Facebook event for the sit-in at the Place Marechal, a large public square in Casablanca, boasted over 1,000 people attending with more than 2,000 or so interested in the event.
News of the protests spread so far that the US Department of State for Travel forewarned any American tourists in Casablanca of the upcoming sit-in in the city.
Although moved to action by footage showing the sexual attack of a young woman days earlier, the protestors also sought to project a wider message of anger and despair at the treatment of women in their country. In particular, the attendees highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment and a rape culture which continues to blame female victims for their misfortune.
This sense of grievance was reinforced by much of the social media commentary following the publication of the original video, with many male users online accusing the victim of not covering herself sufficiently and therefore provoking the attack.
Chaima Lahsini, a journalist at Morocco World News and a spokesperson for the sit-in in Rabat, displayed a so-called "wall of shame" at the event showing various online messages blaming the female on the bus.
Since the protests, some users have directed their online misogyny at the organizers and demonstrators themselves.
"We are receiving threats against our physical safety." Lahsini told DW. "The amount of hate speech against us and women who speak up against violence is unbelievable."
Footage of the incident, in which a gang of youths aged between 15 and 17 years old collectively assaulted the 24-year-old victim, first emerged online on the night of August 20. The clip, which is just under a minute long, shows the boys molesting the woman and tearing off her clothes. Neither the bus driver nor any other passenger on the bus intervened while the film was shot.
This footage provoked an instant backlash once it surfaced online, and it was not long before a Facebook post was published demanding that both the perpetrators and the bus driver be brought to justice. By the afternoon of 21 August, all the boys had been arrested thanks to a swift social media campaign identifying their faces and releasing their respective addresses.
Meanwhile, M'dina Bus, the company on whose bus the attack occurred, released an official statement responding to the accusation that the bus driver did nothing to stop the assault. In the French-language tweet below, they assert that as the film of the incident lasted for less than a minute, it remains unclear whether the driver responded or not.
In comments on Facebook, there is a palpable concern that the authorities are unwilling to confront the injustices Moroccan women face on a daily basis. A number of users have circulated petitions to a range of politicians in Morocco demanding a firmer stance against sexual harassment.
Chaima Lahsini was particularly keen to emphasise how her country's lawmakers have let down Moroccan women, citing a bill against sexual harassment that "has been pending approval for five years now." She hopes that the sit-ins will force the authorities "to take a stand for once and do their job. They must make sure the law is applied to the perpetrators of such violence and also those who call for it."
A further protest in solidarity with the sexual assault victim is planned for this weekend in Brussels.