In El-Jadida, Morocco, the appellate court sentenced a man to two years in prison for sexually and physically abusing his wife. Although optimists hope that this ruling will set a precedent, marital rape is not about to be prohibited by the penal code.
“Two years in prison and a fine of 15,000 dirhams [$1,750].” That judgment was handed down on June 5 against a 42-year-old who for years beat and raped his wife in front of their children. It was a small victory that gave a glimmer of hope to victims of marital rape and to the women’s groups that support them.
The case of Badia, 35, was brought forth by the Assanaa Association and handled by lawyer Abdessalam al-Mrini. What happened to Badia was despicable. The testimony of the couple’s eldest child and the compelling medical evidence clearly favored the victim’s case. “She had the strength to talk about the abuse she suffered instead of keeping quiet and blending into society,” said Mrini. It is not yet known whether her husband will appeal but Badia is already thinking about the divorce proceedings, which she would like to start as soon as possible to put her the nightmare and her tormentor behind her.
The feminist struggle
There has always been sexual violence in the household. Inside the centers of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights (LDDF) are thousands of Badias who are being treated and comforted. “Marital rape is still taboo,” said LDDF President Fouzia Assouli, adding that “it is rare that women take the risk and complain. And when they do, they don’t win the case.”
Assouli remembers a woman who was married to a police officer and whose bruises and psychological trauma were not enough to convict her husband. “The most we could do for her was to get her a divorce,” she said. Nearly 80% of the women received by the LDDF don’t end their relationships. “Some believe that society’s cruelty toward a divorced woman is much worse than anything they face at home,” she laments. And when they do make the decision to separate from their abuser, it is only because they started fearing for their lives “after losing an eye or having a brush with death,” said Assouli.
“Your wives are your fields for sowing your seeds, so come to your place of cultivation however (and whenever) you wish,” (Quran, Surat al-Baqarah, verse 223). According to psychologist and sexologist Abubakr Harakat, one interpretation of this verse allows men to treat their wives as property.
“Some men are not embarrassed using their wives to satisfy their fantasies,” said Harakat. “This is a common behavior in a society where education that the sexes have equal rights and duties is still in its infancy. Some women also fall into this trap, believing that they must always obey their husbands at the expense of their dignity and physical and mental integrity,” Harakat said.
Many women choose to accept the sad reality because of a lack of material resources, fear of what people will say, social pressure, or to protect their children. Although Moroccans do not approve of domestic and sexual violence, we still find ourselves forced to explain why a man raping his wife is a crime.
“Sexual frustration justifies nothing. When [sexual frustration] becomes an engine of aggression then it is a form of psychopathy. We haven’t yet established that a man assaulting his wife is not a right,” said Harakat. “A man who ‘can’t help’ sodomizing his wife against her will is not going to understand if his wife ‘can’t help’ biting off his penis.” For Harakat, considering men as not equal to women amounts to limiting their relationship to that of a mule and a rider.
The flaws of justice
“This is not the first time that a court condemns a husband for raping his wife,” said the co-founder of the Spring of Dignity Coalition, lawyer Khadija Rouggani, as she referred to a 1990 court judgment in Casablanca, “but marital rape is not clearly stated in the Moroccan Penal Code. In the case of El-Jadida, the court had no choice. The child’s testimony had its effect.”
Should we amend Section 486, which is about rape, and add to it the concept of marital rape? “We must overhaul the penal code, which dates back to 1962, not merely patch up the gaps,” she said, calling it a “Stone Age penal code” that doesn’t guarantee citizens’ rights but rather limits them for the sake of the political system’s stability.
The law should not be viewed from only a security perspective that serves the state at the expense of human rights and freedoms. “Today’s penal code is unconstitutional,” Rouggani argues. The Spring of Dignity Coalition has sent a memo about that to several ministries, political parties and parliamentary groups.
“Women must be protected against discrimination and violence, not just through awareness but also through urgent procedures and measures. The entire justice system must be reviewed so that Badia’s case doesn’t remain an exception,” she said. Under the government’s legislative plan, reforming the penal code is being considered, but activists don’t know how it will be reformed. Activists hope for “a positive reading of the constitution and a penal code that is in harmony with Morocco’s international commitments,” so that the judges’ ultimate reference be the law, not societal and cultural mores.