A Frenchwoman who says she was beaten and raped last year by a Moroccan pop star has been so threatened by his fans that she has gone into virtual hiding. The case has illuminated the risks women may face when they speak up against sexual violence.
MARRAKECH, Morocco — Many women who have spoken out against sexual aggression by celebrities have received sympathy, and the men they have accused have often turned contrite in the face of public scorn.
Not so for Laura Prioul, a 21-year-old Frenchwoman, who says she was beaten and raped last year in a Paris hotel, where a housekeeper found her naked and bruised in a hallway.
The man she accuses — a 32-year-old Moroccan pop star, Saad Lamjarred — has a music video with a half-billion YouTube views, a zealous fan base, a prominent family and fame enough that King Mohammed VI helped hire a top-shelf legal team to defend him, according to the Moroccan state news agency.
Since Prioul pressed charges last year, she had been so threatened by his fans that she has gone into virtual hiding. The case has reverberated through the Arab world and North Africa, where it has illuminated the risks women may face when they speak up against sexual violence in countries where rape is often excused and women are more likely to face condemnation, and even prosecution, than the men accused of aggression.
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Lamjarred has publicly maintained his innocence in this case, as well as in two others where he was also accused of assault and the women later withdrew their complaints.
Prioul says she is determined to seek justice. This month, she released an internet video from an undisclosed location, describing it as a desperate attempt to air her story, clear her name and protect her family.
“I finally felt ready, although it was particularly difficult, to publish my story,” Prioul wrote in an email. She and her mother had not granted any interviews since the episode but spoke by telephone to The New York Times. “Finally we are giving a voice to victims of sexual violence around the world.”
After Prioul pressed charges, Lamjarred was arrested and spent several months in detention in France before being freed on bail in April. Upon his release, he published a video showing himself dancing and singing in the streets of Paris. He is now awaiting a potential trial and cannot leave France.
For her part, Prioul, who works in the hotel and restaurant industry, has removed herself from social media and doesn’t go out much for fear of being recognized.
“You will pay for this, you will die,” reads one of the messages she received and showed to The Times. “We are going to kill your mother in front of you.”
Prioul, then 20, was visiting Paris with friends when the assault occurred, she said. Since then, she has returned only when the court or the police summon her. She says that many websites have smeared her, saying that she was a professional escort.
“The purpose of my video is to give my testimony in all sincerity and to stop the rumors about me for a time, to get a little break,” she said.
Prioul is alternately poised, defiant and tearful in her video, as she describes how she met Lamjarred by chance at a club in Paris, when he invited her to his table. Later, with a small group, they decided to move the party to his hotel room.
The others were supposed to join, but never showed up. They danced in the room, and Prioul let Lamjarred kiss her. But when she would go no further, she says, he beat and raped her (without protection, she says).
She then locked herself in the bathroom. Eventually, she went out to get her phone. They had another fight, and he ripped off her clothes and tried to rape her a second time, she says. That is when she ran out naked.
Jean-Marc Fedida, one of Lamjarred’s lawyers, declined to comment. But Éric Dupond-Moretti, another one of Lamjarred’s lawyers, told HuffPost Maghreb this month that the video did “not interest” him.
“I believe that justice is not done through videos or on the internet, and it’s very good that way,” Dupond-Moretti said. He said that no trial date had been scheduled.
Other accusations against him
In 2010, Lamjarred was accused of rape in New York and left the United States while on bail. A prosecutor dropped those charges in December 2016 when the American accuser withdrew her complaint, reportedly after reaching a settlement in a lawsuit.
After Prioul’s case became public, a Franco-Moroccan woman came forward in France and accused the singer of rape in Casablanca in 2015, the French newspaper Le Parisien reported.
The woman in that case also withdrew her complaint because of “heavy pressure” from relations close to her, according to the newspaper. But under French law, it is generally up to the prosecutor to decide whether an investigation should go forward, and the case is still being investigated.
“I will never accept money to withdraw my complaint,” Prioul said in her video. “I want that person to end up behind bars.”
The son of a Moroccan musician and a Moroccan actress, Lamjarred achieved fame in 2007 when he finished second on the talent show “Super Star,” a Lebanese version of “American Idol.”
By 2013, he had become a star in the Arab world with multiple hit songs. “Lam3allem” has been watched on YouTube over 550 million times — more than any other Arabic music video.
“You are the boss and from you, we learn,” the lyrics go. “We stay quiet in your presence. We can’t talk.”
Now that Prioul has decided to talk, many people online have condemned the singer and expressed outrage for the support granted to him by the king.
But many of his fans have also rallied around their idol. Some Moroccan women even released videos online saying they wished he would rape them.
Morocco’s attitudes on rape
Women’s-rights advocates say the case is a disturbing climate of permissiveness around rape.
“This case is a little summary of the reality in Morocco,” said Saida Kouzzi, a founding partner of Mobilizing for Rights Associates, a nongovernmental organization based in Morocco.
“We can be tolerant about rape and forget all moral and religious values when it concerns men,” she added, “while at the same time we are not willing to protect women.”
Marital rape is not a crime in Morocco, and sex outside of marriage is illegal. Both rules discourage rape victims from coming forward because of the fear of being incriminated, advocates said.
“Going to the police to file a complaint about rape can also become an admission of having sex outside of marriage,” Kouzzi said.
Rape is also punished more leniently if the woman does not lose her virginity during the assault.
Hind Bensari, 30, a Moroccan film director based in Denmark, made “475: Break the Silence,” a web series on women’s rights. She interviewed Moroccans extensively about their views on rape and the cultural stigma around it.
“It is largely considered that rape or any act of sexual violence on women is also due to a woman being provocative in one way or another,” Bensari said. “It becomes more important for victims of sexual abuse to hide what has happened.”
Singer’s fans defend him
Outside Morocco, Lamjarred’s fans also defend him. In Lebanon and Jordan, his songs are played frequently and fans express outrage against Prioul.
The week Prioul released her video, Lamjarred was featured on the cover of the Moroccan magazine Version Homme posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. In the magazine’s interview, he said he “cannot talk in order to let justice work in serenity.”
Prioul’s mother, Olga Cohard, 47, a social worker, has been helping her daughter through the court case, in which she is struggling to pay the legal bills. She remained confident that her daughter would prevail.
“Laura is a very strong woman who needs to be supported, to be accompanied,” Cohard said in a telephone interview. “We keep on telling ourselves that there is justice and that it will be served.”