As the focus the world turns more and more to the change that the OWS movement is effecting, the scrutiny applied to the actions of protesters will undoubtedly also grow. Media outlets and right wing commentators will seize on anything that will disrupt or discredit the movement.
Unfortunately, reports of sexual assault and rape at various OWS sites have been in the news recently:
Now, a man has been arrested at the main Occupy Wall Street protest in Zuccotti Park in NYC.
The alleged rapist was a kitchen volunteer and had been in the park protesting for some time.
A man who has been linked to two sexual assault charges in Zuccotti Park has been arrested. 26-year-old Tonye Iketubosin of Crown Heights allegedly raped an 18-year-old woman from Massachusetts early Saturday morning, and sexually assaulted a 17-year-old woman on October 25th. According to the Wall Street Journal, he has been charged with third-degree sexual abuse, and the DA's office states that charges related to the alleged rape are "pending.....
Beau Sibbing, Wisconsin resident who has been working in the kitchen at Zuccotti Park for the past three weeks, tells us that Iketubosin was known as "Tonye Parks," and came to work in the kitchen around two weeks ago. "He was a genuinely nice guy...he came to get shit done," he said. Sibbing had heard rumors of the first assault on Friday, and said that Iketubosin "was adamant that it wasn't him."
After word had spread of the alleged assaults, Iketubosin was told not to come to kitchen meetings and to stay away from the park, "but he kept coming." Sibbing said that around 9 p.m. last night "a whole bunch of people came and made him leave the park. Then the NYPD picked him up. I wasn't sure if it was for his own safety or if he was being arrested."
OWS sites are clearly a collection of a highly diverse group of individuals and in the general assembly structure, it can be difficult to police or control criminal elements in the camps.
However, some of the comments from the story are a little bit disconcerting. It's not clear if the working groups are reporting these crimes to the police:
Billie Greenfield, who left her home on the Upper West Side three weeks ago to live in Zuccotti Park, tells us that she was part of the mediation team that handled the sexual assault claims against Iketubosin. "I think this is an isolated incident," Greenfield says. "I don't have any reason to believe that the victim would lie, and I don't want to believe that anyone would lie about this, but I still think that it's always important to hear both sides."
Another woman who has been at the park for the past three weeks from her home on Long Island and asked to be identified as Amanda F., says, "This is still New York. It's humanity; you're gonna find the good and the bad. I don't want to discourage people from coming down here, it's very rare that something like this would happen."
Why in the world is a mediation group handling an accusation of sexual assault or rape? You don't need to hear both sides - that's for the proper authorities to do. Are we trying to repress the reporting of assault? In a safe space environment these kinds of issues have to be dealt with by immediate reporting to authorities. I understand that a lot of the OWS groups would rather not have police interference in the internal affairs of the camp, but come on!
Clearly, many of the OWS sites have been working hard to maintain safe and secure areas for all people protesting. But it must be better, not only for the safety of all the participants but also because every failure to do so will be seized upon by the right wing and, truth be told, by the mainstream media as a way to undermine the movement.
Rape and sexual assault are never acceptable. It's not something we 'handle internally' and it's certainly not something that we want the OWS associated with.
Just my two cents.