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Sexual extortion against women students: Supporting the reporting of abuse as a civil action against blackmail based on authority abuse

The Chairperson of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) held a meeting on Tuesday 4 January 2022, to coordinate the Council’s actions related to cases of sexual extortion and harassment in some colleges, universities and higher-education institutes, known in the media as “Sex for grades”.

Several presidents of CNDH's Regional Commissions (CRDHs) and the Coordinator of the Standing Committee on Parity and Non-discrimination took part in this meeting.

The CRDHs previously held hearings with several women student victims in the cities of Settat and Oujda, as well as meetings with student associations and several professors. The CRDHs also followed up on similar cases in other cities in Morocco.

Considering the right to equality and non-discrimination against women and girls as a structuring theme in its strategy of actions, the CNDH notes with satisfaction the involvement in its national campaign, launched on November 2021 to combat violence against women and girls and to encourage reporting to tackle impunity.

Continuing its interaction from a human rights perspective with the frequent data and information related to sexual extortion, particularly on women’s rights and dignity, the Council positively notes:

The importance of conducting investigations by the competent public prosecutions so that criminal acts do not remain unpunished;          
The immediate measures taken by the Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research to conduct the necessary administrative investigations with subsequent disciplinary measures.

Based on the discussions held in the past several meetings and on outcome of the 4 January meeting, the Council:

Reiterates its recommendation to provide judicial support for victims who reported sexual crimes and assaults, including medical and psychological care, pursuant to Article 117 of the Constitution.

Found it surprising that students’ complaints were ignored by several university administrations.

Notes the multitude and variation of procedures announced at universities following reports of sexual extortion by students;

Questions the absence of appropriate administrative and educational units to deal with cases related to violence against women and sexual blackmail;

Stresses the importance of taking into account good practices to protect the victims before blackmail news have spread.
Recalling  its campaign Manskotch Ala El Onf (Speak out against gender-based violence), which will last for the whole year, and which aims at encouraging victims to report crimes and at combating impunity; and considering that students entitled  to get an education in a space that protects their dignity and physical and psychological integrity; and taking into account that an educator’s role is to conduct its mission in respect of the professional rules instilled in Moroccan university traditions and customs, the Council:

Commends the fact that the victims broke the silence and reported the abuses that affected their dignity and lives, despite possibilities of being criminalized, defamed and incited against;

Expresses deep concern about the multiplication of cases of extortion and violence of sexual nature as well as cases of violence in our society;

Announces it will continue following-up on cases of sexual extortion against students, including during trials;

Stresses that the growing cases of women students breaking silence requires multiple measures to overcome its negative repercussions on the university, professors and students, so as to improve trust in accessing institutions for remedies;

Calls on the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to disseminate the Marrakech Declaration Protocol to protect students from violence and harassment, to establish extortion reporting mechanisms and to provide suitable care for victims;

Considers defamation, harassment and denigration campaigns against students who reported sexual extortion, as it was also noted in previous cases of sexual violence, are a flagrant human rights violation;

Stresses the need to support reporting as a civic action given the consequences of blackmailing based on power and authority abuse;

Calls for the implementation of protection measures for victims pursuant to the law on combating violence against women and to take measures to protect whistleblowers and witnesses;

Calls on the media to play its informative and educational role without compromising the dignity of victims and exposing them to any social or cultural interpretations, defamation or pain.

As part of the agreements signed by its CRDHs and universities, the Council will hold round tables on issues related to violence, harassment and sexual extortion, protecting victims and whistleblowers, as well as protecting the university as space for knowledge and learning.