‘Discussing sexual assault is taboo in Moroccan culture’

Youssra Zouaghi-De Boer (31) was abused in her youth by several perpetrators in the family. Bringing this up for discussion is something of a taboo in the Moroccan environment she comes from. She wrote a book about it. “My mother is a first-generation daughter. She didn’t talk about anything and she didn’t know any better.’

‘It’s not your fault. Talk about it, go get help. Unprocessed suffering can cause a lot of misery.’ These are Zouaghi-De Boer’s (31) words of caution. As a young girl, she was sexually abused, and she wrote a book about it: Freed from secrecy.

Zouaghi-De Boer wrote her story for therapeutic reasons and to help other victims of sexual abuse. She finds it painful when people think her book is a form of attention. She was very doubtful whether she would publish this book. Nevertheless, she took this step. However, on the advice of her publisher, all names have been changed and she chose the name ‘Afra’ for herself, which means happiness.

IN Freed from zobligation she describes the first years of a Moroccan-Dutch family in Almere with great problems. The mother is married off at the age of fifteen to a very violent, heroin-addicted man. Less than a year later, Afra was born. Later, a little brother joins them, a sweet little boy who is multiply disabled. Fortunately, the father quickly disappears from the scene, due to a prison sentence abroad. A quiet time begins until the mother gets into trouble and can no longer take care of her children. For some time, Afra and her little brother live with a friend of her mother. Until her father is released and she and her brother live with him. Then all hell really breaks loose.

Her father immediately makes it clear that women have no rights. He treats his daughter like a slave and neglects her. She is often late for school because she has to look after her little brother. There is often no food in the house.

When she is in group 3, Afra gets a note from school because she doesn’t smell fresh and her hair doesn’t look nice. She does not dare to give this letter to her father because she is afraid that he will beat her. In group 5 there is Miss Sabrina, a teacher she really trusts. One day, when she finds a bag of powder at home, she takes it to school. Miss Sabrina is shocked when she sees the drugs and says that Afra must return this at home quickly or her father will be very angry.

Sexual abuse

At the age of eight, she is abused by her uncle Youssef. Although she is terribly afraid of her father, she decides to tell him what has happened. Her father seems to be particularly concerned about her honor if she is still a virgin. He seems less concerned about his cousin’s behavior. Nevertheless, he decides to press charges.

“Then he was a protective father for a while,” says Zouaghi-De Boer side note. ‘The police spoke to my uncle but he denied everything. That closed the matter, I never saw him again.’

Some time later, her grandfather, who lives in Morocco, comes to visit his son in the Netherlands for a while. At first Afra thinks it’s cozy, until he is shocked with his hand in her underpants. He replies that all grandparents do. She tells an aunt, but she bursts into a rage:

“How dare you talk about my father like that!” she shouts angrily. “But it’s really true,” I whine. She won’t hear it and slaps me in the face. ‘Don’t you dare tell anyone else. You don’t say anything to anyone, do you hear me?’ she shouts with envy. She walks away and I’m left defeated in the bathroom.’

‘Maybe everything would have been different if I had told someone else first, for example a teacher at school,’ says Zouaghi-De Boer. “I think my aunt was shocked by what I said and didn’t want to believe it.”

‘I wondered if I had been abused because I am Moroccan. But that is not true. Incest occurs in all cultures

She comes from an environment where sex was not allowed. “Discussing incest and sexual abuse is also taboo in Moroccan culture,” she says. ‘I have sometimes wondered if I had been abused because I am Moroccan. But that is not true. Incest occurs in all cultures.’

Afra then goes back to live with her mother. When she is almost twelve, she is again the victim of sexual abuse. An acquaintance of her mother wants more than just to touch Afra. While her mother sleeps at night, Afra must go downstairs with him.

‘In our new house, where there is still no furniture, I have to lie down on the floor. He pulls down my underpants, bought in Hema’s children’s department.

“I’m totally into you now aren’t I,” he gasps as I lay petrified on the floor. I tremble and am very ashamed.’

It doesn’t stop with this rape. She is regularly raped by him. Afra feels forgotten and invisible because of this.

“Why is no one aware of what’s happening? Why is no one saving me? I don’t think I’m worth saving. And God, asks the little voice in my head? Well, God hated me already, but of course he hates me even more now. Why would he save a girl who has lost her virginity?’

Eventually her mother finds out what is going on. She wants a story from the perpetrator. “She wanted to kill him, but a friend stops her,” says Afra. To this day, the relationship with her mother is very fragile. Little is said about the rapes at that time. “My mother is a first-generation daughter. She didn’t talk about anything and she didn’t know any better.’

Youth service

When Zouaghi-De Boer still lived with her father, there were always two women from Youth Care, because of her disabled brother. These appointments were always scheduled so her father would make sure everything was clean and cooked.

“The same two ladies once visited my school, but I didn’t dare say anything for fear of being beaten by my father. So I just said everything was fine at home. If they had promised that I wouldn’t be home again, I probably would have spoken. Once someone from Ungdomsservice came unexpectedly when my father was not at home. Then I let them in. I cooked, cleaned and looked after my little brother, just like always. My father was furious when I told him later. He could not afford for my little brother and I to be taken away from him, because then he would lose his residence permit.’

When Zouaghi-De Boer and her brother went to live with their mother, he married a Dutch woman. It was only when this woman ended up in hospital as a result of his abuse that Ungdomsplejen was shaken.

“I don’t understand why the police and the Youth Service have not intervened before,” she says. ‘But as a result of my book, Ungdomsservice invited me for an interview. Looking for someone to talk to about what went wrong. I haven’t decided what to do yet.’

De Boer-Zouaghi stresses that her book is not an indictment of youth care. It’s about telling this story so other victims of sexual abuse know what to do.

She is now married and has had her first child. She appeared to be suffering from post-traumatic stress. ‘But a good amount of therapy, yoga, support from my amazing partner, the love of my family and writing everything down has given me the peace and strength I needed.’

The taboo on talking about sex has encouraged abuse, she believes. Therefore, she informs her children that no one must touch them – and vice versa. ‘The most important thing I want to give my children is love, security, structure and regularity. These are exactly the things I have not experienced myself.’

Youth care does not want to respond to this case, which is more than twenty years old. ‘Jeugdzorg Nederland is an umbrella organization and not the right address for such questions.’ These questions must be asked of the municipality in question, which has since been absorbed by another municipality. An information officer says that the case is difficult to trace. Furthermore, everything to do with youth care fell directly under the government and not under the municipality.

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