How Right-Wing Smears Against Occupy Exploit Victims of Rape in the Movement
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“On the morning of October 29, a woman participating in OWS was sexually assaulted at Liberty Plaza.” This was the opening of the November 4 statement released by the NYC survivors’ support team (an offshoot of Safer Spaces OWS) responding to a sexual assault that had become a lightning rod within the movement--and for its agenda-laden critics.
In November, those critics of Occupy included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who used the assault to maneuver toward eviction. Now they include notorious right-wing smear operative Andrew Breitbart, who went on his already infamous “stop raping people!” and "you're filthy animals" rant directed at Occupy-affiliated progressives outside of CPAC and has caused a media firestorm as a result. He has acknowledged that his campaign is part of a smear effort to wreak vengeance on progressives who criticized racism within the Tea Party.
When Emily Crockett, the young woman who took the video, waded into the online discussion, this is what happened:
Why? Because I dared to suggest that the blame for rape lies with the rapists, not with the places where they live and sleep, and that smearing an entire movement for the actions of a few criminals who infiltrated an encampment is disingenuous and irresponsible.
Even though the encampments and occupations are almost all gone, the subject of OWS and rape has, thanks to Breitbart's campaign, become contentious once again, tossed back and forth most prominently between Breitbart, Keith Olbermann and Markos Moulitsas. The latter two, along with Emily Crockett, are being called “rape deniers” by Breitbart and his minions. Tommy Christopher at Mediaite aptly describes how the issue of women's safety in the movement has been turned into a football between prominent men, without much consideration of what women in the movement actually had to say during that first phase of Occupy.
So let’s set the record straight. I have been reporting extensively on the role of women and the Occupy movement since October, and here’s what I’ve found:
- First of all: assaults did occur at a number of the encampments, particularly those which grew exponentially in a short amount of time. It’s true that some of the perpetrators weren’t seasoned activists but showed up seeking shelter at the camps. However, in an “open-source movement,” it’s hard to distinguish between “true” occupiers and moochers; this was a challenge organizers faced.
- Second of all, there was a gargantuan effort from within the movement to combat the problem, ranging from creating designated safe spaces to internal security checks to involving law enforcement when victims requested it.
- Thirdly, to smear the entire movement (or any group at all) based on sexual assaults misunderstands the rape epidemic in our culture. We live in a patriarchy in which no space is ever really safe from sexual assault. Many activists understand this in a way that neither law enforcement nor male pundits seem to.
“Although we all believe we are ‘like-minded' individuals, activists must be prepared to face ignorance and rape culture, and do everything they can to combat it within the movement,” Sarah Armitt, a Brooklyn resident and OWS activist, told me a week before the Zuccotti eviction. “When activists enter a movement, they should be aware that they will still have to deal with the same issues they face externally. It's not all unicorns and rainbows. Education and awareness are key.”
Women in the movement face a double-bind: they have to contend with misogyny and assault on the ground, and outsiders like Breitbart and Bloomberg exploiting these incidents to tarnish a movement that they have more claim to then a handful of perpetrators. Some have had to step back from OWS because of these pressures, while others have re-upped their efforts at combining feminism with Occupy.