Forced to marry her rapist

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Women urge Morocco rape law reform

Women's rights activists in Morocco demand the repeal of a law allowing rapists to marry their victims.

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The suicide of Amina Filali, a Moroccan 16 year old instructed by a court to marry her rapist, has sparked outrage on the internet and protests in the streets of Rabat, Morocco’s capital. A law allowing rapists to escape prosecution if they marry their victims is an “embarrassment”, campaigners say – which is one way to put it, although some might prefer “psychological torture” or “total disgrace”.

One of the many sad things about Filali’s story is that Morocco isn’t alone in using marriage as a way to preserve the honour of a rape victim’s family at the expense of the victim herself. (It’s worth noting that the men involved aren’t necessarily particularly keen either – reports say Filali’s husband initially refused to marry her and was repeatedly violent once they were hitched.)

There are eight other countries where marrying your rapist is part of the penal code, and still more where tradition means it happens regardless of the legal system, because the loss of a woman’s virginity outside marriage also means the loss of family honour. Honour is often associated with sharia law, but the rape-marriage practice exists far beyond the Islamic world – perhaps unsurprisingly, since it’s recommended in the Old Testament. Less than 15 years ago, there were 12 Latin American countries which married women off to their rapists, while women from Romania to India have experienced the same treatment. A recent comment piece in the Times of India ran under the headline “Should a woman marry her rapist?” with the provocative intro, “When a rapist offers to marry the victim, one would think it's the perfect solution”. The article actually argues that marrying your rapist is pretty much an all-round bad idea - but that the question even gets a public airing is quite telling.

Zohra Filali the mother of rape victim, Amina Filali who committed suicide last week, shows a picture of her daughter at ...

Zohra Filali the mother of rape victim, Amina Filali who committed suicide last week, shows a picture of her daughter at their family house in Khmis Sahel near Larache northern Morocco.

All this acts as grim reminder of how often women are still treated as property, and how widely female sexuality – whether it’s expressed willingly or through coercion - is still viewed as a deeply suspect force. Forcing rape victims to marry the men who attacked them is about maintaining control over women and their sexuality – the motivation which is behind honour killings too.

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Or to put it another way: “A man’s honour lies between the legs of a woman”, as Iranian scholar Shahrzad Mojab recently explained it. In fact it’s so firmly wedged there that families often describe their treatment of women as “part of the continuum of love and care”, she says. Marriage to a rapist, or even death, is preferable to living a life of dishonour – which in practical terms may mean further victimization by the community. "I had to marry her to him, because I couldn't allow my daughter to have no future and stay unmarried," Amina Filali’s mother Zohra told a journalist a week after her daughter’s suicide. “We would have been the laughing stock of our neighbours.”

There is good news, though. In the past decade, many countries have eradicated the law permitting rapists to walk free if they marry their victims. The protests in Rabat (attended by Filali’s parents) and online may mean Morocco, which has already significantly reformed laws around the treatment of women in recent years, is next. What might lead countries like Afghanistan to change position on marrying women to their rapists is harder to see. But at least there will be one less left to tackle.