Sexual Harassment in Morocco: The Dangers of a Fake Smile

Nothing in life is free and as a seasoned traveler, one is normally on the edge whenever a stranger approaches you with a fake smile and offers you something for free, specially because in the end you’ll have to repay it with either money or with any other kind of currency.

This is the tale of how a my friends and I met a Moroccan guy in the beach town of Essaouira and how he almost convinced us that he was trustworthy honest person. Spoiler alert: He was the complete opposite.

And to think it all started with a bottle of wine…

The camel and horse riders of Essaouira

Essaouira is a beach town located two hours west of Marrakech, famous for its sea-side fortress where the third season of A Game of Thrones was filmed. It is also popular because of the fact that this is one of the few places in Morocco where you can ride camels and horses at the beach.

The day before our fateful encounter with the infamous Moroccan guy, whom we shall call Gregory for the time being, my media assistant and I went for a walk at the beach and ended up convincing a camel rider to take us for one hour for only 30 DH (3 Euros) so the next day we were determined to bargain a similar price for a horse ride.

This time, however, we were accompanied by Rose, a Dutch-traveler that we befriended at the hostel the very same morning. The problem? She was beautiful blonde girl. A beautiful innocent blonde girl. As you can imagine, that soon made her a target of guys like Gregory the toothless Moroccan (seriously, he only had four good teeth!).

Sexual Harassment in Morocco

Camels chillin’ at Essaouira

And to think it all started with a bottle of red wine…

You see, here in the Muslim World, it is currently Ramadan, a holy time of the year where Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown and where locals and tourists alike are unable to find alcohol at most supermarkets (you can still buy it at certain Carrefour Markets though).

Businesses take advantage of the thirst of tourists so they tend to overcharge prices. I still cannot believe that my friends and I ended up paying almost 20 euros for a bottle of bad red wine! It was this act of “wealth” the one that made us target from Gregory the con man.

As we were hanging out at the beach bar, we were approached for two guys offering us horse rides. They started by quoting their usual BS price of 300 DH (30 Euros) before we bargained it down to 25 DH. Red flag number 1? Gregory the horse rider claimed that Rose, our Dutch blonde friend, would get her ride for free.

That was the moment when the nightmare started.

Sexual Harassment in Morocco

Essaouira, the real life version of Astapor in Game of Thrones

Sexual Harassment in Morocco: The Nightmare

Before we knew it, we were hustled to ride the three nearest horses and our guides went out of their way to ensure that Rafael and I stayed as far away from Rose and Gregory.

I won’t lie  to you, I wasn’t that worried about Rose’s safety since there were a lot of people at the beach and also because, deep down I really trusted that Gregory only wanted to get a shot with her and that he was relatively harmless. I was wrong.

In a sudden flash, Gregory jumped to the back of the horse and grabbed Rose’s waist as they both galloped away from Rafaela and I. Luckily, they didn’t get that far but I could only see Rose’s concerned face from a distance. After one hour, the most awkward horse ride ever finished and as we were walking away, Gregory invited himself and his friends to the after-party of the Netherlands-Argentina match.

We, of course, told him yes since at that point he still seemed to be a trustworthy guy. A touchy and yet-still trustworthy guy. Red flag number 2 was raised the moment that we went to the meet-up and he was there all by himself.

Damn was our judgement wrong.

Sexual Harassment in Morocco

My friends Rose and Rafaela

A Night Out With a Moroccan Harasser and Scam Artist

The following red flags came in a rapid succession of events that we barely had the time to fully process them. “It’s Ramadan, I cannot drink vodka but I can smoke weed, would you like some?”, “Of course we Muslims can have sex during Ramadan. It’s okay as long as you take a shower before sundown”, “I live 20 minutes away from here by car, we can all go to my beach house afterwards”, “Hey Raphael, could you please lend me 100 DH? I have no money to pay for my drink since I gave the blonde a free horse ride”.

It was at the last comment when I told my friends that it was time to leave. Naturally, Gregory went mad and his fake smile soon revealed his true face as he began to shout at us asking for money since we had effectively wasted his time. I mean, of course that Rose would never go home with you, Gregory. You’re a toothless horse rider who just proposed us at least 4 crimes under Islamic law!

The scariest part? We met Gregory again in a dark shady alleyway on our way to our hostel. How in Allah’s name did he manage to be at the precise one that we took? We would never know but as soon as he approached us I knew that I would have to end up staying behind to fight him off while my friends escape to safety. Luckily for me (and for him), Moroccan scam artists are like stray dogs. They can bark as loud as they want but they will never bite.

Gregory soon left after a verbal discussion with me and we walked to our hostel always looking behind our backs to see if he was still following us. Damn you Gregory, you really got us fooled into thinking you were a good guy.

Damn you.

Sexual Harassment in Morocco

The Funky Boats of Essaouira

A Word of Caution for Travelers to Morocco

The best Moroccan scam artists are always in for the long con. They will charm you with a fake smile and will lead you to believe that everything’s right with them in order to encourage you to trust them and meet them again. That is, until they start to use psychological warfare in order to bully you into giving them money…or worse.

To me, the final objective of Gregory wasn’t to ask us 100 DH for his drinks. To me, his long con objective was to get us alone at his beach house where he would unleash on us his most depraved desires. The 100 DH were just a desperation tactic he used once he realized that we would never go home with him.

Follow up: Is Morocco Safe to Travel? From Sexual Harassment to Travel Scams.

Have you ever been in such a dangerous situation while traveling? How did you cope with it? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think!

A cautionary tale of Sexual Harassment in Morocco about how a free horse ride at the beach of Essaouira soon turned into a nightmare. #Morocco #Harassment #MeToo

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29 Responses

  1. Agness

    One of the lessons I’ve learnt from my travels is that people are generally friendly and you can trust me. However, I try to be careful if I see a fake smile :)….

  2. Suzanne Fluhr

    Our son had to rescue an intoxicated, sleeping Norwegian woman when the desk clerk of their hostel in Istanbul came into their dorm room and tried to rape her. He didn’t tell me about the knife until after he was home.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Men who attempt to take advantage of innocent women are the worst ones in the world. Glad your son was there to save her from the claws of the Turkish rapist.

  3. Jasmine

    arhh how scary. its hard to tell if someone is being genuine especially in touristy areas where everyone approaches you.. i tend to trust locals who don’t hang around the tourist areas :)

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      True. In my opinion, you should only be trusting locals that relate to you either economically or when it comes to education. Yes, it sounds classicist as hell but ask yourself: How many “below poverty line” friends you have back home? Why should it be different abroad?

      People in your same economical situation won’t try to scam you or ask you for money.

  4. Jan Kalserud

    Very well written article which hopefully can help tourists to understand the meaning of “a fake smile”. Travelling to “tourists places” like Essaouira always means trouble with false guides, vendors, touts and wannobe scam artists.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      True, articles like this one are important to inform people so they can visit amazing places like Essouira without having to deal with this sort of bad experiences.

  5. Lynn

    In answer to the question on your 2nd photo, yes, most of them can be trusted! I have lived in Essaouira for 2 years and I have never encountered anything as alarming or potentially dangerous as this, but I hear plenty of stories. As Jasmine says, above – the Moroccans who hang out with the tourists are the ones who want to be with tourists. And their motives are not always the best ones. Most people in Essaouira are genuinely honest, lovely people who embody the principles by which they have been raised as Muslims. Some, however, are not and any traveller needs to pack a large bag of common sense *wherever* they travel. And if you want to take a horse or camel ride, use a reputable local company. Do you really think that if you get your ride for free the handler has insurance or enough money to take good care of that horse?!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      I think that 99% of Moroccans are honest people. Sadly, the remaining 1% is the one that tourists will most likely encounter during their travels.

  6. Sabina

    Don’t get me wrong – this was a well written and interesting article. But sweeping generalisations and questions like “Can Moroccans be trusted?” do not promote a balanced worldview. Surely we cannot make a judgment of an entire nation based on one scam artist?

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      It was a fair question. And the answer is that yes, Moroccans can and should be trusted. However, you should be wary of the Moroccans that approach you out of the blue in touristy areas.

  7. Badr

    I agree with sabina above you can’t use this titlle my friend because you are getting people wrong first ideas as long as you are judging moroccans because it’s not a deal of devloping countrys or devoloped there is always bad and good in people where ever you go in this world

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      The conclusion of the article was that you can trust most Moroccans, just not the ones hanging around at touristy areas doing nothing but harassing travelers.

  8. Elsa

    Well… this is a pretty racist article. It sounds like you had an unpleasant experience, but there’s no need to make sweeping generalisations about Moroccans.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      The purpose of the article is to warn future travelers about the potential dangers they might face while in Essaouira.

      PS. “Moroccan” is not a race, ergo this article cannot be racist ;)

  9. Le Chat Grand

    Hello Raphael. I actually met you and your companions during my two week stay in Essaouira. I also met Gregory down at the beach. Having spent over six weeks at this stage travelling all over Morocco I know how to deal with Morrocans and what to expect from them. There is a transaction behind every encounter (a sad and unavoidable fact) and sadly it is difficult to form a relationship with a Moroccan. Tourists must learn how to say ‘no’ to salesmen and guides and leave them amicably. It was a lesson I learned the hard way at the beginning of my trip in Tangier.
    However a lot of blame lies with young western female tourists ( though not your companions in this case). In the numerous hostels I have stayed in I have seen young women mesmerised by the charms of young moroccan men: the pseudo philosopy, the hash/stoner culture, non-religious rastifarianism, the basic multilingualism and orientalism. In hostels I have seen young women falling under the same spell with the guys using the same tricks every time.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Well, as long as it is consensual there is nothing wrong with it. The problem arrives when Moroccan hostel owners believe that ALL western women are alike and they act friendly with them only to get angry when the western woman in question doesn’t wants to have sex with them.

  10. Ryan @Treksplorer

    Frankly, I’m not surprised by this. I visited Morocco earlier in the year and I can honestly say that I’ve never visited any country where scams and hassles against tourists were so prevalent. At the time, it was annoying but tolerable simply because it’s an amazing place to travel besides the annoyances. In hindsight, though, I don’t think I would ever return there because of it.

    Regarding a previous comment, perhaps it’s a bit much to make a sweeping generalization about Moroccans, but in Raphael’s defence, it’s pretty difficult to keep a “balanced world view” when it’s day after day of hassles. His troubles aren’t exactly isolated; they’re widespread. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone having a hassle-free visit to Morocco, and, at least for me, the inability to discover the country without being bothered, hounded or followed really soured the experience.

    • Jan Kalserud

      Yes. What we are talking about here is the “general experience” of being a tourist in Morocco. Not to generalize over Moroccans in general. The truth is that it is an annoying experience. The tourist represents a source of income and the hustlers and vendors have no shame when it comes to methods to get money from you. The problem is that even if you are aware of this and don’t involve in any transactions and say no to fake guides – it can be very difficult to get rid of these persons attacking you. They treat you with no respect and behind the words “hello my friend” there is a great contempt and a vision of you as someone who they can fool of money.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Exactly, in my opinion, highly touristy countries with poverty problems will always be bad for travelers since they’ll encounter people who resent the travel lifestyle and so they feel as if the travelers “own” them something just because they can “afford it”.

      • Jan Kalserud

        Was really impressed that you have taken the time to personally respond to all comments. Thank you very much!

  11. Angie

    I didn’t take offense to the title at all. Just like I didn’t take offense at a story I saw earlier in the week about a pub in Ireland that posted a “no loud Americans” sign in his window. Not all Moroccans are untrustworthy, just like not all Americans are loud.
    I must say, I did laugh when I read the part about smoking weed and having sex during Ramadan! I guess people all over the world tend to find loopholes where they can.
    As always, a great read, Raphael.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Thanks for the kind words, Angie!

      Ps. Maybe the pub allowed Americans as long as they were quiet? To be honest I would be offended if I ever saw a sign saying something akin to “No Drunk Mexicans Allowed” hahaha

  12. Anna

    What you wrote is just terrible and completely wrong!!!!! In fact it’s totally different and Moroccans can be trusted – not only trusted, but they also go with their promise and give you extra things for free if they see you’re genuine! However, if they see they you’re there just to get everything super cheap and you’re rich enough to go there then they see you’re just this annoying tourist. This is how anyone would behave despite the location!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      You cannot generalize Moroccans as a whole unanimous nationality. The article claimed that yes, Moroccans can and should be trusted BUT you shouldn’t trust this specific Moroccan guy.

      Being an “annoying tourist” is not justification for scams and sexual harassment, you’re basically trying to blame the victim and not the criminal, Anna.

  13. Ramune

    I am just back from Morroco, Essouira. I loved that country, and I saw less fake smiles, than I did in Usa… I am a women, and heard a lot nice words, invitations, but you just smile, say suhran, and go away. I ride the horse too ( for 75dh per 30min), and yes, one of horse holders fall in love in one minute, but … I accept is just as funny joke and no one treated us bad, may be sometimes all depends on your attitude to others. They just try to earn money any way, as there arent much ways to get good money or even to get money in this countrey. Everything in Morroco inshala ( as God wish), so all you need just accept theirs traditions and enjoy the stay ;)

  14. christina

    Raphael, I am new to your blog, but I must say, wonderful writing and story and how EXTREMELY refreshing to hear one man in this world saying “Don’t blame to victim”. Thank you from one woman out here:-)) I think essaouira is a magical place, and so many of the comments have been spot on- in my experience there, I found Morroccans to be some of the kindest, loveliest people I have ever had the luck to meet in my life- and yes again, of course no matter where you are in the world, there will be the scammers ! don’t let them damage your opinion of the morrocan culture and people at large- wonderful people and magical place. I’d love to live there one day, myself actually. And all male travelers out there: if you see a woman you are with being touched innappropriately (ie a strange man getting behind her back for a horse ride, which is a very intimate situation- i’ve ridden all my life and I won’t share a horse with a strange man- hello unwanted frottilism or however you write it ! Please step in and ask to help her ! Love your blog (oh and also your Sak Yant- I’m in thailand now headed for Chiang mai and considering one myself:-)) very best regards !:-)

  15. Ricardo Ribeiro

    Seasoned traveler, you say? Ahem…… there is sheer naivety every single step of this tale. This is not about ALL people in Morocco. It’s about the large majority of people in Morocco in touristic places who are willing to interact with foreigners: do not trust them.