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Morocco is rocked by the’sex for grades’ controversy


Female university students in Morocco have spoken out about instructors requesting sexual favors in exchange for good grades, a controversy that has rocked the country’s higher education system.

In the style of the #MeToo movement, testimonies have flooded social media in the conservative North African nation, where victims of sexual violence generally remain silent.

"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."

Hassan I University in Settat, near Casablanca, where she was eventually re-admitted, is presently embroiled in a five-professor scandal.

One was sentenced to two years in prison earlier this month for requesting sexual favors in exchange for excellent grades, and four more are scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

"My case was not an isolated one," said Nadia. "Other girls suffered similar things but no one wanted to listen to us."

Several comparable occurrences have been published in the local media in recent years, although none have resulted in official action.

But then, thanks to a social media campaign, the debate shifted, with more people becoming aware of the scope of the problem.

The moment of truth came when screen grabs of messages allegedly from academics demanding sexual favors from female students were shared online.

"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."

“7achak,” a local dialect word used to justify oneself before broaching a taboo topic, was one association that helped bring some of the scandals to light.

The initiative started an Instagram page to encourage women who have been harassed to share their experiences.

"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 allegations against university professors began to surface 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 reported their stories about that professor, which led to his suspension.

Some business school executives who were judged “complicit” were also fired, according to the higher education ministry last month.

In Tangiers, an instructor at a translation school was convicted and sentenced to prison in early January for sexual harassment, according to lawyer Aicha Guellaa.

According to her, “almost 70 complaints” were also lodged at Tetouan’s Abdelmalek Essaadi Institution, but have yet to elicit a response from the university management.

Sexual harassment allegations in academics caused outrage among activists, online, and in Moroccan media outlets across the country.

Higher Education Minister Abdelatif Miraoui pledged “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment in response.

As the number of testimonials increased, numerous universities established toll-free hotlines and teams to investigate allegations 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.

After years of heated debate, a law went into effect in 2018 that for the first time imposed prison sentences for “harassment, assault, sexual exploitation, or abuse.”

“Laws exist,” Nadir said, “but few benefit from them.”

'Sex for grades' scandal rocks Morocco|ABS-CBN

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