John on October 21, 2011 at 9:32 am
New evidence emerging from the digital messaging board of Occupy Baltimore indicates that sexual and verbal harassment of women at the camp has been a widely discussed problem for nearly two weeks. Several women who have visited the camp report being harassed, including sexually inappropriate language and touching. Despite this, other group members continued to suggest that group problems be handled internally, even stating that calling the police on someone is a “violent act.” In addition, those making complaints are warned to be careful what they say on public forums lest the information fall into the hands of the media.
On Oct. 8 a woman named Beth described, in her own words, what happened after police were called to remove a homeless man from the Occupy Baltimore camp:
A group was angry as police had been called in for a drunk man – or something like that. I didn’t make the call but I watched this group move pretty darned close to the police. I called out for them to calm down and the group seemed to think I was the person responsible for bringing the police. They literally turned on me as I sat behind a table serving soup – and pressed up against the table and one member moved in and blocked me on the right. He started yelling “f-you” with his fingers in my face. The entire crown was pretty much yelling – more cries of f-you. I tried to yell back that they had no right to do this to me that I was trying to stop trouble and that I had a right to do that. It was only when another man intervened and screamed at the group to shut up that they finally began to dismantle.
A policeman came by on his bike and told me he was sorry to see what had happened to me and that he had waited there to make sure they didn’t physically assault me. Ok. So I am at OccupyBaltimore and I need a cop to protect me from my own group? Wow. I was quite shaken up and this is violence. And it is not ok.
Had I needed the cop – had they touched me – the trouble would be on as they would have possible been arrested. That gets no-one anywhere good. I am obviously angry. Furious, in fact. heartbroken. I have been there on and off since Tuesday. I have worked hard to get the message out and I have brought people and donations in. I never anticipated this violence from within. I was first. Who is next?
“I just stopped by Occupy Baltimore for the first time. In the 30 minutes I spent there, I had 3 different men speak to me in a sexual manner. I was really excited to be going into a safe space of equality and it just really dissapointed me. What can we do to make this a safe space for women???”
Several people chime in about the possibility of more training or other ways to deal with the problem. Then a woman named Susan adds:
I have been down there nearly every day and yes, I avoid eye contact and conversation with most of the men. I have had three creepy interractions. [sic]
At this point, someone named Jessica pipes in about watching what is being said in public:
I want to make a quick interjection, that we need to be really really careful, not in issues that we bring up on the google groups, but how we bring them up…I don’t disagree that it’s a dude-fest down there, but there are A LOT of really strong women who are really actively participating, and who feel totally comfortable being there. I think it’s clear TO US that these concerns are being taken seriously, but perhaps not to everyone on this google group, and there are A LOT of people following this group, including people in the press. [Emphasis added]
So, I would just add a little caveat against inflammatory language or accusations on here. The press is watching us closely, and they need to know that we’re dealing with these issues seriously and reasonably, with a great deal of understanding and compassion, and most importantly, as a community.
The discussion continues about what to do and at one point someone named Paul notes that the threats are not limited to women:
We are all so sorry that this is happening. I have also heard two cases of men being threatened, both by someone who participates in the ga. [general assembly] What can we do, in a way that is consistent with our values? Obviously education and security and compassion and faith in community are needed components, but anything else?
Calling the police is not part of the discussion. It’s all about ways to deal with the problem “as a community,” i.e. internally.
Four days later on Oct. 17th a new thread is started by a contributor named Dan:
A few points of observation for discussion. No answers provided here, because I don’t have any. I hope someone on this list does.
- Where trust being abused
- We’ve created a cop-free space before we’ve created a safe space for everyone, and now we’re asking people to live and sleep with people who have been abusive IN THIS SPACE. I don’t care about (albeit relevant) police records, I care about the actions that have happened IN THIS SPACE which have been physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and silencing others through intimidation. FUCK THAT.
Later the same morning another thread is started by Christa. This thread is about inappropriate touching:
Just a reminder, please don’t touch people without asking. Yesterday seemed to be the worst day for me down at the park with several people I had never met before finding it appropriate to touch me. This ranged from wrapping an arm around my waist to caressing my arm. These are behaviors that contribute to folks not feeling safe at the site.
But on the same day these discussions were taking place, another member had started a thread titled “Calling the cops?” Here’s how it begins:
I’ve only stopped by the occupy site on I think four occasions. On TWO of them, once near the beginning and once last night, I witnessed police arrive to ask someone to leave, almost certainly because they were called by someone else at occupy. (It doesn’t seem like the police would just randomly show up and pick a person out of the crowd who just happened to be causing problems for other occupy participants, which is what happened in both cases).
This is very disturbing to me. Is it really culturally acceptable in the occupy space to call the cops on someone to eject them from the space? If not, is anything being done to make it unlikely for this to happen again? Discussion, training, devising alternate strategies?
I’d re-iterate the point made by a fellow I forget who was from NYC on one of the other occasions I was at the site: Calling the police on someone _is_ a violent act, you are placing them at risk of police violence (getting arrested is violent in and of itself, as is long-term imprisonment or the ‘extra’ touches the police may give you).
He goes on to say that this obviously doesn’t apply in all cases including cases “when victims of violence or faced with imminent threat of serious physical harm.” Nevertheless, the clear sense of this post and of the group in general is that police should not be involved if it is at all possible to avoid it. Again, this is being said even as others in the group are getting fed up with inappropriate touching, language and sexual harassment.
Perhaps this helps put in context the Occupy Baltimore security pamphlet which Big Journalism’s Derek Hunter reported on Tuesday. The gist of his story was that an OB produced pamphlet, while not denying women who have experienced a sexual assault the right to call police, seemed to be subtly discouraging them from doing so. Hunter’s report made local news and was even reported on by the AP. The AP contacted four experts who were unanimous in saying the pamphlet was problematic:
The heads of three rape crisis centers and a nurse who runs the forensic division at an area hospital also called the message dangerous.
But as you can see, the problem is much deeper than one pamphlet. Indeed, the pamphlet is really just one tangible expression of the ethos of the Occupy Baltimore group and, perhaps, the entire Occupy movement. The desire to maintain a good media image along with a general hostility to police presence produces a powerful incentive for individuals not to report problems but to keep them contained within the group. As a result, only a handful of the threatening and/or potentially criminal incidents taking place inside the Occupy camps are being reported to responsible authorities. As Beth’s story illustrates, even being suspected of having called the police can cause other occupiers to turn on and further victimize you.
City parks were never intended to be impromptu tent cities, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these intentionally police free zones are fertile ground for incidents of sexual harassment, theft, assault and worse. And it’s very doubtful these are isolated incidents. Hopefully those in positions of responsibility in Baltimore and elsewhere will consider the experience of these women (and men) at Occupy Baltimore when deciding how long to allow these camps to continue.
Category: Crime & the Law |