When a man rapes an under-age female in Morocco, he can avoid being prosecuted for the rape if he marries the girl. This is an acceptable solution for the girl’s family because rape victims in Morocco, as in many Islamic communities, are “despoiled” and “dishonored” and cannot contract decent marriages. But these “honor marriages” put the girls at real risk. Rape is not a crime of sex. It is a crime of violence, and rapists are violent men. The violent nature of the rapist will not be contained to a single sex act.
Sixteen-year-old Amina Filali took her own life because her husband, her rapist, was routinely beating her. On March 10, she swallowed rat poison. It is a horrible, painful, slow way to die. The usual chemical in rat poison is strychnine, which causes muscles to spasm starting with the head and neck, within 20 minutes of ingestion. Then the spasms spread to very muscle in the body. The spine arches continuously. Fragile bone will break due to the strain. The body receives too little oxygen leading to overloads of lactic acid in the muscles, the body becomes very cold and the breakdown of skeleto-muscle tissue floods the body with proteins and other by-products causes kidney failure. The victim starts hallucinating, suffers from intense pain. Eventually, the neuromuscular collapse causes the victim to die of suffocation because the lungs can no longer breathe. Death takes up to three hours from the time of ingestion, but if the dosage was in the right range, it can take days for the victim to die.
In the Moroccan capital of Rabat, hundreds of women gathered to protest the law and its victims. They held signs saying “The law has killed Amina.” Her parents attended the protest rally. They told the BBC that their daughter was pressured by the court into marrying her rapist.
Amina’s death has shocked many in Morocco. There is an on-line campaign to pressure for repeal of the law, Article 475. A Facebook page has been set up called “We are all Amina Filali.” The case has opened up the debate over rape, pre-marital sex and the treatment of women who have been sexually assaulted or who choose a more liberated lifestyle. It also addresses the matter of a family’s honor being damaged by the rape or choice made by a female family member.
Fouzia Assouli, President of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights, believes that the repeal of Article 475 and proper punishments for rapists would advance the position of women in Moroccan society and start to change conservative attitudes. The protest began because the government has not responded to calls to investigate Amina’s death. It is easy to say she committed suicide and close the case. Ms. Assouli told the BBC, “What we have witnessed is scandalous. We have had enough. We must change this law, we must change the penal code.” That would only address the crime of rape, not the society that deems the victim to be at fault and having dishonored her family.
The legal age for marriage in Morocco is 18. A rape is considered “special circumstances” that allow for a girl to be married before that age. In a rape case, all parties must agree to the marriage but considerable judicial and social pressure is put on the girl and her parents.
Laheen Filali, Amina’s father, told the blog goud.ma that when he reported the rape of his daughter to the authorities, he was immediately told of the marriage option. “The prosecutor advised my daughter to marry. He said, ‘Go and make the marriage contract.’” The victim was being told to accept a plea bargain for being the victim, to accept a life sentence of being the slave of the rapist, while the real criminal was getting off without any kind of punishment and handed a young wife in the process.
The protesters want the judge who pressured Amina to accept the marriage and the rapist/husband to be prosecuted and jailed. The best anyone can reasonably hope for is that the judge would be forced to resign and the rapist tried under any law Morocco might have for contributing to a death. It is nearly impossible, even in the most legal-minded nation, to convict people of laws that didn’t exist at the time of the crime.
In Saudi Arabia and Egypt, we have seen protests for women’s rights. In many ways, these protests are seen as separate from the broader protests for greater political rights for all people. But no nation is truly free if any portion of that nation’s population is denied equality and dignity.