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

Editors’ Note: We are re-printing and posting this statement from the Safer Spaces Working Group at Occupy Wall Street. We admire the work that this working group has been doing to make Occupy Wall Street an anti-oppressive space for everyone and in particular the hard work they have been doing in terms of survivor support around this incident of sexual assault at OWS.

Originally published on the website of the New York General Assembly

New York, November 4, 2011: 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.

These efforts provided the survivor with the time and space to carefully review the options available to her. Following two days of discussion with family, friends, supporters, and anti-violence advocates, the survivor decided to make a report to the police and to push for a criminal investigation and prosecution. Supporters from OWS accompanied her to the police station, and will continue to support her throughout the legal process.
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.[1] 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

One Comment to “Transforming Harm & Building Safety: Confronting Sexual Violence At Occupy Wall Street & Beyond”

  1. Thanks for printing this as it gives a clear description of events in which half the population of the 99%–and in its microcosm at Occupy–is impacted by power relations. I think that progress on the issue of creating safety for women, as well as for target populations of harassment by other groups such as queers, and people of color, would be expedited if we engaged in going beyond reporting incidents and providing services and analyzed the problem the way that working groups of color are analyzing the connections between racism on site and the racial structure of capitalism. We need to diagnose the roots of the problem of men’s sexual harassment of women and connect it to the larger issues of exploitation that are at the root of The System contested by the occupy movements. Check out occupypatriarchy.org for some feminist analysis–a beginning at any rate. in solidarity, KM

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