In Morocco, A Fake Gynecologist Exposed As Online Predator

Since the beginning of the year, a fake doctor has been offering free consultations to young women on Instagram order to solicit intimate photos or incite them to commit sexual acts.

Two women on the streets of Marrakesh, Morocco
Two women on the streets of Marrakesh, Morocco
Nina Kozlowski

CASABLANCA — Forced outings, sextortion, revenge porn: Moroccan social networks have not been spared from this type of cybercrime. And the victims — mostly women or homosexuals — prefer to keep quiet for fear that their denunciations will turn against them. According to a report published last March by the Moroccan network Mobilising for Rights Associates (MRA), seven out of 10 victims of online violence do not report attacks "out of shame" and "fear of social rejection."

Indeed, justice is not necessarily risk-free. Recently, a Court of Appeals in the northern city of Tetouan confirmed a lower court verdict of one month in prison and a fine of 500 dirhams ($136) for Hanaa, a young mother who was the victim of "pornographic revenge" on social networks.

Hanaa will not return to prison, but the court convicted her of "public indecency" and "sexual intercourse outside marriage" under Article 490 of the Moroccan penal code. However, the judge decided to extend the international search warrant against the person who filmed the video, who lives in the Netherlands.

Victims have begun to turn to citizen movements such as Moroccan Outlaw, which campaigns for the abolition of article 490 of the penal code; Diha F'Rassek ("Mind Your Own Business'), which helps victims of revenge porn and sexual blackmail; and No hchouma, which fights for "a sexually and emotionally fulfilled Moroccan."

He identifies the young women and approaches them directly via Instagram direct messaging.

In February 2021, Mehdi, who manages the No hchouma Instagram page, stumbled upon the account of a certain Youssef Benchekroun, a sex therapist in Marrakech with 4,638 followers, mostly between ages 16 and 25.

"At the time, this therapist offered free, interesting and credible content online. He had quite progressive positions, so I decided to follow him," recalled says Mehdi. "Then he changed his profile, introduced himself as a gynecologist, renamed himself ‘Dr. Benchekroun" and started making questionable, even conservative, comments: pointing out women's clothing that he considered too short or too tight. That made me cringe."

Mehdi's intuitions proved to be right: Several people contact him to raise the alarm about this mysterious gynecologist. On Instagram, the bio of the famous "doc Benchekroun" attracts an audience of teenagers and young adults in a society where these topics are not easily addressed in public and where consultations with specialists are expensive. "Most young people are affiliated with their parents' health insurance, so it's difficult for them to go see a doctor without their parents knowing about it," says Mehdi.

Benchekroun, who describes himself as a 38-year-old married man, suggests talking about "sexuality without taboos' and offers his services in the following areas: "sexual education, couple therapy, relaxation techniques and relevant advice."

It's all online and free. The "doc" promotes himself with Instagram stories, posts and polls where he asks users about their favorite sexual positions. He then identifies the young women who have participated and approaches them directly via Instagram direct messaging. Needless to say, all these practices are strictly forbidden by the code of physicians. Except that Dr. Youssef Benchekroun does not exist: No gynecologist bears his name in Morocco.

A person walks alone on the sidewalk in Marrakech, Morocco — Unsplash User Noah Rosenfield

He contacted Chaïma* several times, asking her very intrusive questions and offering her "free consultations or operations." The young woman refused because she lives in Europe and already has a gynecologist. But there are also many young women in distress who kept talking Dr. Benchekroun.

This was the case for Rania*. At the time she contacted him, the young woman was having problems with her libido and her sexual experiences were not very fulfilling. She says she briefly explained her situation to him and he immediately suggested that she go on WhatsApp, to talk directly.

"I was very hesitant but he reassured me that he was a father and that he had a practice in Marrakech," she says. "We called each other and he quickly started asking me awkward and intrusive questions, eventually asking me to masturbate live on the phone. I refused, politely. He told me that if I didn't do what he asked he would never be able to help me and that I was a stuck-up person. I eventually hung up, though I sent him a message apologizing. Finally I blocked him and I understood that it was not normal."

The problem is that none of the victims dare to talk to their parents or file a complaint

Another young girl fell into the trap and sent intimate photos, before revolting against the dubious practices of this fake doctor, who did not hesitate to threaten to share her photos and sexual experiences in public.

These are just some of testimonies directly collected by Jeune Afrique. The problem is that none of the victims dare to talk to their parents or file a complaint, especially since the famous Youssef Benchekroun is not identifiable. "Several victims still have his phone number, and there is surely an IP address behind his account, but to identify him, there must be a complaint and the police must open an investigation," says Mehdi. "The problem with this impostor is that he also knows how to go under the radar. For a few days he suspended his account because No hchouma denounced his practices, but like any good predator, I'm sure he will return."

The victims hope above all that this story will encourage the public prosecutor's office in Marrakech to take up the case and open an investigation. There is no shortage of evidence to convict the fake doctor, including screenshots where it is clear that this man is committing identity theft and illegally promoting his activities, a form of extortion on young women, sometimes minors. The hope is that it would be exactly like what happened in the Hanaa case in Tetouan, says Mehdi, "except that this time we would like it to be done in favor of the victims and not the other way around."

*Names have been changed to protect the women's identities

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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