Female Moroccan university students have broken their silence about professors demanding sexual favors in return for good grades—a scandal that has shaken the higher education system.
Testimonies have flooded social media in the style of the #MeToo movement, encouraged by activists in the conservative North African nation where victims of sexual violence often keep quiet.
"I was expelled from university a year ago under the pretext that I had cheated on an exam," said 24-year-old student Nadia, who declined to give her full name.
"The truth is that I had just refused to submit to sexual blackmail from one of my professors."
The Hassan I University in Settat, near Casablanca, where she was eventually re-admitted, is now embroiled in a scandal involving five professors.
One was sentenced to a two-year prison term this month for demanding sexual favors for good grades, in the first such verdict, while four others are due to face court Monday, Jan. 24.
"My case was not an isolated one," said Nadia. "Other girls suffered similar things but no one wanted to listen to us."
In recent years, several similar cases were reported by local media, but failed to elicit official action.
But then a social media campaign shifted the conversation, raising awareness of the magnitude of the problem.
'Wave of testimonies'
The turning point came when screenshots were published online, said to be of messages in which professors demanded sexual favors from female students.
"I had not considered making a complaint, but after the scandal broke, I filed a civil suit," Nadia said.
"My move is also a way of encouraging other victims to denounce these acts."
One association that helped bring some of the scandals to light was "7achak"—an expression in local dialect used to excuse oneself before broaching a taboo topic.
The movement launched an Instagram page calling on women victims of harassment to share their stories.
"As soon as the appeal was launched, we received a wave of testimonies," the association's founder Sarah Benmoussa told AFP. "Those accompanied with evidence were published."
More accusations against university lecturers began to emerge online.
"I am speaking to you to stop the sexual harassment and the rotten and unacceptable acts of a monster disguised as an instructor," wrote a former student of the National School of Business and Management in Oujda.
Other victims also shared their experiences involving that professor, resulting in his suspension.
Some officials at the business school, deemed "complicit", were also dismissed, the higher education ministry said last month.
In Tangiers, an instructor at a school of translation was convicted and sentenced to jail in early January over sexual harassment, lawyer Aicha Guellaa told AFP.
According to her, "nearly 70 complaints" were also filed at the Abdelmalek Essaadi University of Tetouan, but have so far failed to provoke a response from the university administration.
The reports of sexual harassment in academia sparked an uproar among activists, online and in the local media across Morocco.
They prompted Higher Education Minister Abdelatif Miraoui to pledge "zero tolerance" for sexual harassment.
As the number of testimonies grew, several universities launched toll-free hotlines and set up teams to follow up on cases of sexual violence.
"It's crucial to support the victims and to help them gain access to the judicial system," said human rights defender Karima Nadir of the "Outlaws" group.
In 2018, after years of fierce debate, a law entered into force, imposing for the first time prison sentences for "harassment, assault, sexual exploitation or abuse".
"Laws exist," Nadir said, "but few benefit from them." (AFP)