Student protest over ‘sex for marks’ scandal

Protesting students at the public Abdelmalek Essaâdi University have called for an investigation into allegations against a professor of mathematics accused of promising female students high marks in exchange for sexual relations, in a case that has rocked the institution and reignited concerns about sexual harassment in Moroccan universities.

The sexual harassment allegations, which were made public on 27 April, came to light after a student created a Facebook page on which she published private conversations and photos allegedly implicating a mathematics professor in the university’s faculty of science based in Tetouan. The man is alleged to have invited a group of his female students to have sex with him in exchange for high marks in mathematics examinations.

By setting up the Facebook page, the student was acting in direct compliance with a call by another Arabic Facebook page called Denounce your Harasser, which aims to maximise individual and collective efforts to fight sexual harassment by bringing together the real and virtual worlds. The Facebook page states: “If you cannot knock out your harasser, if you cannot disarm him, take a picture of him and shame him.”

Calls for investigation

In response to the student's 27 April post, the National Union of Moroccan Students in the faculty of science in Tetouan issued a statement on 28 April in which it called for an urgent investigation into the matter.

This alleged 'sex for marks' scandal "strikes at the principle of equal opportunity, campus ethics, reputation of the faculty, and damages the credibility of higher education in general and university degrees in particular", the statement said.

"We announce our denunciation of this incident, and our absolute condemnation of any student's exploitation by university administrators or academic staff for personal or sexual purposes … Our demand [is] to open a serious, responsible and urgent investigation into the scandal."

On the same day, students held a demonstration at the faculty to protest against the sexual harassment case.

According to a statement issued on 29 April by the Tetouan branch of the Organization of Student Renewal, or OREMA, and published on the OREMA news website: "The dean of the faculty of science said a disciplinary committee will meet to examine the case and propose appropriate sanctions and submit them to the committee of the Abdelmalek Essaâdi University, which is authorised to take the final decision."

"The dean considered that the professor is involved in three cases, including manipulation of marks, sexual extortion and leaking of examinations," the statement said.

OREMA called for the professor’s dismissal from the university and for him to face “maximum” penalties.

Past harassment reports

The 'sex for marks' scandal has reignited concerns about sexual harassment in Moroccan universities which have been reported in local media.

The problem is also apparent outside of universities. A 2009 Moroccan government survey found that nearly two-thirds of women had experienced physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence. Some 55% of the two-thirds of women reported 'conjugal' violence.

These sexual assault cases have prompted Morocco's government to prepare an anti-sexual harassment law which stipulates that any person convicted of committing sexual assault could face a combination of jail time and fines.

However, implementation of the law is lacking. The Morocco 2017 Crime and Safety Report indicates that "legislation has been enacted to punish any form of sexual harassment; however, the law is new, and authorities are still trying to determine how best to enforce it".

Beyond universities

Morocco's universities were not alone in facing sexual harassment problems, according to Samir Abd-El-Aal, a research professor at the National Research Center in Cairo in Egypt.

A 2013 United Nations report entitled Study on Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Egypt showed that 99.3% of women in Egypt had been subjected to one form or another of sexual harassment in public places including universities and education institutions, while a 2012 survey by the Tunisian National Office for Family and Population revealed that violence against women in the public sphere was sexual in 21.3% of cases.

Abd-El-Aal said there was a need for a North African coalition for sexual harassment-free campuses.

"This coalition must establish a new special unit to fight sexual harassment within universities in the region with the aim to raise awareness, offer counselling and encourage action against incidents on campus," he told University World News.

Sexual harassment policies

The coalition should also help universities and higher education institutions to prepare and implement an anti-sexual harassment policy by setting up databases for best practices and policies of African and international higher education institutions in dealing with sexual harassment, a virtual library for studies and reports of campus-based sexual harassment and a directory of African and international experts in combating sexual harassment.

Abd-El-Aal added that the proposed coalition should follow in the footsteps and share the aims of like-minded international and regional and national anti-sexual harassment movements, groups and campaigns such as End Rape on Campus, the International Center for Research on Women, the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance and the Egypt-based HarassMap which provides technical support and advice to universities across Egypt to take steps against sexual harassment and has helped Cairo University to prepare its own anti-sexual harassment policy.