Her body is covered in cigarette burns and tattoos. The 17-year-old girl said the letters and symbols were etched onto her hands, arms and legs against her will.
In accordance with Washington Post policy, the teenager is not identified because she is a victim of sexual violence and has not given her consent to be named. She told the local news outlet ChoufTV that she was kidnapped in June while visiting an aunt in central Morocco's Beni Mellal province. She said she was then kept by a gang of young men who raped her and abused her over the course of two months.
"I tried to escape, but they beat me and made me suffer. They wouldn’t give me food,” she told ChoufTV. She said she wasn't allowed to bathe the whole time she was in captivity. “My life is lost now. I wasn’t like this."
She also said she was drugged by her captors. “One would take me and then give me to another and then another and then another,” she said.
At least 12 suspects have been arrested in the case, which has stirred controversy in Morocco, a conservative country that until recently allowed men who raped underage girls to avoid charges by marrying their victims. Nearly 75,000 people have signed an online petition calling for justice in the teenager's case. The petition organizers wrote on Change.org that they hoped to bring together individuals and organizations to show their indignation and “help [the girl] remove the tattoos from her body and ensure her psychological and physical support.” The suspects are set to attend a hearing on Sept. 6.
In an interview with the Associated Press, the girl's mother said she passed out when she saw her daughter again. “I collapsed, seeing her like that, the tattoos, the burns, her honor lost,” she said.
But not everyone believes the teenager's account.
Houcine Harshi, president of the Moroccan Association for the Defense of Human Rights, told the AP that the girl's accusations should be met with skepticism. He claims she was known for spending time with drug users, which the AP said her mother denied. Relatives of the suspects also have accused the girl of lying, claiming she went with the men willingly. But a neighbor of the girl who works as a social worker told the AP that the teenager “must be taken seriously."
"This girl is a minor,” the neighbor, Abdelwahed Saadi, said. “She says she has been abused and raped."
Despite some progress in legal protections for women who are victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse in Morocco, Human Rights Watch said a law passed by parliament in February will offer some protection but “contains gaps that should be addressed.” According to the human rights group, a 2009 government survey in Morocco determined that 62.8 percent of women ages 18 to 65 “had experienced physical, psychological, sexual, and economic violence."
In 2016, a 16-year-old Moroccan girl self-immolated and killed herself after she was abducted and raped. According to a Moroccan human rights group, an autopsy revealed that the girl was pregnant, and her attackers had threatened to publish photos of her rape if she didn't drop a complaint against them, Agence France-Presse reported.