“Occupy” movement and sexual assault

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Guest blog post from Rocio Fuentes-Diaz from Women’s Crisis Support – Defensa de Mujeres!!

The Occupy Wall Street Movement has swept across the nation and as hundreds flock to the tent cities in peaceful protest, many are thinking twice about their safety. As advocates, we are all aware of the astounding number of sexual assaults that occur in our normal (and tragic) day-to-day, but we are also aware of the risk factors that may increase the likelihood of an assault. Perhaps a tent city, which began without considering proper security procedures, might be a risk?

On Tuesday November 1, 2011, 26-year old Occupy Wall Street kitchen worker Tonye Iketubosis was arrested for allegedly groping an 18-year old Friday evening. In the midst of the arrest, another 18-year old came forward to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office stating that Iketubosis had allegedly raped her Saturday morning. Charges are still pending.

This is not the first time sexual assaults have been tied to the Occupy Movement. Far from Zuccotti Park, in Occupy Dallas, a registered sex offender has been charged with assault of a 14-year old runaway. Organizers have stated they “weren’t at the point where [they] were asking for ages, or any verification of that sort, and if anything [they]’ve learned from that.”

At Occupy Cleveland, a 19-year old student activist reported being raped. According to police reports, the survivor was instructed to share a tent with another activist known only as “Leland” due to a shortage of tents.

There have been opinions in the media about the survivor’s ability to report such incidents. Some have stated that the Occupy Movement has taken it upon themselves and their self-appointed security team to run the abuser out of the movement and discourage survivors from reporting the incident to law enforcement. Others have passionately defended the movement stating that survivors are encouraged, but that law enforcement has not given the survivor priority due to their participation in the protest. Whatever the case may be, regardless of personal political stances, advocates can agree that something must be done. We are trained to always believe and support the survivor, regardless of socio-economic, cultural, or political differences. With that being said, we have to see this specific issue with an advocate perspective.

 

As a movement against sexual assault, what are we doing to insure that the occupy spaces near our cities are safe for everyone?

 

Assault charges and opinions in the media have prompted the movement’s General Assembly to release a statement regarding this issue.  It seems the Assembly has acknowledged the need for additional precautions when it comes to safety at the tent cities- specifically for women. According to recent articles, Occupy Wall Street has taken the initiative to have a women-only tent. It is a 16 square foot metal framed tent which can fit up to 18 women. It is watched by female members of the movement. According to the women, it is all about safety in numbers. I would hope that other occupy spaces are taking the same precautions. In an effort to make a stand against assault in solidarity, OWS has released the following article, encouraging General Assemblies of all Occupy Spaces in every city  “to empower women and LGBTQ occupiers with the time, space, and resources necessary to ensure that every occupied space is a safe space.”

Without a doubt, any kind of support a survivor may receive is better than none, but as rape crisis agencies we are already prepared with the tools that are necessary to better support a survivor. Most of us even have a program specifically geared towards preventing sexual assault. Perhaps some outreach is needed to ensure that everyone is aware of the resources available to them should they need them. Whichever route is chosen, the sexual assault movement should actively engage in a dialogue around this issue. Whether we are pro, con, or indifferent to the occupy movement, it is rapidly spreading to every city, and we need to view occupy spaces as any other community who needs our support.

Alexis Marbach

Alexis Marbach joined CALCASA in July 2011 and is currently the Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator in the Prevention Department and a Public Policy Advocate. She has been working in the field of sexual violence prevention since 2002 as a prevention educator, group facilitator, and researcher. Alexis is committed to developing and promoting comprehensive, culturally competent primary prevention initiatives to reduce sexual violence.

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