Occupy Wall Street "Survivors Support Team" Responds to Sexual Assault in Park, Debunks Rumors by Bloomberg

NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg has specifically called out sexual assaults in Zuccotti Park as a reason to distrust the Occupy movement--and even potentially disband their camp. He has claimed that activists are actively discouraging victims from reporting their assaults.

This is simply not true. Several incidents in the park have been reported to law enforcement--in fact, protesters have directly handed at least one violent individual over to police.

But beyond that, there is important anti-violence work being done downtown, in an environment where many protesters are aware of and have long been fighting "rape culture" in addition to corporate hegemony and inequality.

I have been spending much of my time in the past three weeks speaking with and spending time with the many women who are doing feminist and safety awareness work at Occupy Wall Street and who are striving at a record pace to build social, emotional, cultural and physical "safe spaces" within the movement.

They are very much cognizant of every problem that arises within the park's borders, from irritating to grave--and are taking incredible and strong violence intervention and prevention actions within working groups, campsites, and more. 

Furthermore, the NYPD and the City DA's office have had a dismal year--committing and bungling high-profile sexual assault cases and victim-blaming left and right--and the public trust in their ability to handle such cases has eroded. Their brutal treatment of Occupy protesters has further undermined trust. No reports on these stories should ignore that dynamic, nor should the Mayor. As NY Magazine's Daily Intel blog notes, one woman who was groped in Zuccotti now carries a sign that reads, "I was more victimized by the NYPD who handled my sexual assault case than I was by the assaulter."

There's no question, however, that the way the movement handles these kinds of painful incidents will be a true test. To that end, the best voices on this subject come from within the occupation, and they are strong: here is the press release from OWS' "Survivors Support Team" and Safer Spaces Committee, detailing exactly what happened after a sexual assault on Saturday. This report debunks much of Bloomberg's fear-mongering rumors. Please circulate it far and wide.

Transforming Harm & Building Safety: Confronting Sexual Violence At Occupy Wall Street & Beyond 

Statement by members of sexual assault survivor’s support team at OWS

We are writing this statement to inform our fellow occupiers about an incident of sexual assault at Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and the response to it. We are also writing this statement to respond to media accounts that blame the survivor, and that attempt to use this horrific incident to attack OWS. We write this statement as supporters of OWS, as fellow survivors, and as allies.

On the morning of October 29, a woman participating in OWS was sexually assaulted at Liberty Plaza. The person who she identified as having assaulted her was arrested on November 1 for a previous assault.  He has since been released on bail.

On the morning of the assault, the survivor was accompanied to the hospital by a group of women from OWS, including a social worker, to support her and act as advocates. From the moment the incident was discovered to the present time, the survivor has been surrounded by a network of allies and trained advocates offering resources to provide emotional, medical, and legal support. At every step of the process, and in line with the core principles of survivor support, her wishes as to how she wanted to proceed have been honored, and information from a range of sources has been provided to her about her options. The survivor knew immediately that she wanted to make sure that the person who assaulted her did not harm anyone else at OWS. Community members honored this demand by asking that this person stay off site, and, when he refused, monitored his activity, ejected him from the space and escorted him to police custody.

We have been saddened and angered to observe some members of the media and the public blame the survivor for the assault. A survivor is never at fault. It is unacceptable to criticize a survivor for the course of action they chose to take or their community for supporting them in that choice. Additionally, we were troubled at the time of her report that responding police officers appeared to be more concerned by her political involvement in OWS than her need for assistance after a traumatic incident of sexual violence. A survivor is not at fault for being assaulted while peacefully participating in a public protest to express their political opinions. We are aware that this is one of several known cases of sexual assault that have occurred at OWS. We are dismayed by these appalling acts and distressed by the fear among many Occupiers that they have caused, as well as their negative impact on our ability to safely participate in public protests. We have the right to participate in peaceful protests without fear of violence.

We are also concerned that segments of the media have attempted to use this incident as another way to disingenuously attack and discredit OWS. It is reprehensible to manipulate and capitalize on a tragedy like this to discredit a peaceful political movement. OWS exists within a broader culture where sexual assault is egregiously common: someone in the US is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes, most assaults are never reported, and most rapists are never held to account. We live in a culture of violence in which sexual assault is often ignored, condoned, excused and even encouraged. We note that it is particularly difficult for survivors of assault at OWS to feel confident in reporting crimes to the NYPD – the NYPD’s unjustifiably aggressive and abusive policing of OWS has undermined trust in the police force amongst protesters.

As individuals and as a community, we have the responsibility and the opportunity to create an alternative to this culture of violence. Advocates, some of whom are survivors themselves, have worked for decades to address sexual violence generally. We are working for an OWS and a world in which survivors are respected and supported unconditionally, where they are supported to come forward, and where every community member takes responsibility for preventing and responding to harm. We are redoubling our efforts to raise awareness about sexual violence. This includes taking preventative measures such as encouraging healthy relationship dynamics and consent practices that can help to limit harm.

We are creating and sharing strategies that educate and transform our community into a culture of consent, safety, and well-being. At OWS, these strategies currently include support circles, counseling, consent trainings, safer sleeping spaces, self-defense trainings, community watch, awareness campaigns, and other evolving community-based processes to address harm. We encourage survivors to connect with support and advocates, and to access medical, legal, and social services, as well as available community-based options, many of which are listed below. We stand together as a community to work towards the prevention of sexual violence and harassment, and to provide unwavering support for anyone who has been assaulted. We commit to creating a culture of visibility, support, and advocacy for survivors, and of accountability for people who have committed harm.

With hope and solidarity,

Members of the survivor’s support team at Occupy Wall Street 

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Contact the Safer Spaces Working Group: [email protected]
AlterNet / By Sarah Seltzer

Posted at November 4, 2011, 12:27pm

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