A 17-year-old girl’s terrifying account of being abducted and held captive and brutally tortured for two months is gripping the nation of Morocco, and prompting new calls for society there to take the problem of violence against women more seriously. So far, The Associated Press reports, 12 men have been arrested in connection with the case, though the Moroccan government has remained silent about it.
The girl, who has been identified by local media as Khadija Okkarou, made an appearance on Chouf TV last week and described her ordeal in detail. She said she was on her way to visit her aunt during Ramadan when she was kidnapped at knifepoint on the street in the central Moroccan town of Oulad Ayadat.
“They tattooed my arms, I don’t remember the day they tattooed me ’cause when I woke up in the morning I found that my arms were swollen and they hurt me,” she said in the interview, which has sent shockwaves through the North African kingdom. Video of her interview has more than 1.2 million views on YouTube since it was posted. “It was terrible. I cried but no one cared,” she continued. “They have no compassion.” Khadija said that the men would take turns sexually assaulting her “one by one” and force-fed her drugs that would knock her out, in some cases, for days at a time.
At one point in the interview, Khadija, whose face remained obscured while on camera, began showing the camera the scars from the torture, which were all over her hands, legs, arms, and the back of her neck. She said her captors burned her with cigarettes and forcibly tattooed her skin. One of the tattoos she was left with appears to be a swastitka.
“I tried to escape several times, but I was caught and beaten. They tortured me, they did not give me food or drink, and they did not even allow me to take a shower,” she said, according to the BBC. Near the end of the interview, she breaks down into tears. According to a local social worker, Abdelwahed Saadi, Khadija’s father had reported her missing to police, but authorities initially declined to launch an investigation. After unsuccessfully fleeing several times, Khadija said, her father spoke by phone to her captors and said if they freed his daughter he wouldn’t press criminal charges. Once Khadija was released by her captors, she went to police on her own.
Her lawyer, Ibrahim Hashane, told the AP that there are 15 suspects and 12 have been taken into custody by police. Three remain at large. Hashane, as other lawyers on her legal team, is volunteering his time to represent her. He said a judge has set the first hearing in the case for next week. More than 50,000 have signed a Change.org petition urging justice for Khadija, and online people are using the hashtag #JusticePourKhadija to raise awareness of her plight.
Not everyone believes the girl’s story, however. According to the mother of two of the suspects who are now in custody, Khadija ran away from home with the knowledge of her parents and showed up at the woman’s home looking for her two sons. The woman said her sons repeatedly asked Khadija to leave. Even the president of the Moroccan Association for the Defense of Human Rights, Houcine Harshi, expressed skepticism about her account. He said Khadija has been known to consort with drug dealers.
But Saadi, the social worker and a neighbor of the girl’s family in Oulad Ayad, said, “This girl is a minor. She says she has been abused and raped. Her words must be taken seriously.”
Below, watch the interview with Khadija that has stunned the people of Morocco and many others around the world.
Read the full story at The Associated Press.