October 20 2011

OWS Baltimore: Rape Victims Should Consider Not Calling Police

Charlotte Hays

An Occupy Wall Street pamphlet that urges women who are victims of rape not to contact the police reportedly has surfaced in Baltimore.

I have to say that this is so bizarre that my first reaction was that the reporter could not have gotten it right. But here is the item from the Baltimore Sun:

Efforts by the Occupy Baltimore protest group to evolve into a self-contained, self-governing community have erupted into controversy with the distribution of a pamphlet that victim advocates and health workers fear discourages victims of sexual assaults from contacting police.

The pamphlet says that members of the protest group who believe they are victims or who suspect sexual abuse "are encouraged to immediately report the incident to the Security Committee," which will investigate and "supply the abuser with counseling resources."

(The item goes on to add that, while reporting abuses to the police is discouraged, the victim has “every right” and the support of OWS to do so. This isn’t quite the same as urging a rape victim not to waste a minute in getting the police involved.)

I have to say that this is just so strange that I am almost afraid to put this up, but there are no indications that it is a hoax.

This is disturbing on every level, including the most basic, which is concern for women who have suffered sexual violence. The idea of this anarchic community evolving into a self-contained enclave where the writ of our law does not apply is also not comforting.

What on earth is going on?

I am trying to imagine what prompted this pamphlet—is there sexual violence at OWS, and do the authors of this directive regard it as more of an image problem than a justice problem? Revolutionary movements in the past have not always had an enlightened attitude towards women. OWS may just be following this tradition. Or maybe it is simpler than that: OWS has devolved into Lord of the Flies rather than a non-worker’s paradise.  

Alana Goodman of Commentary, whose post alerted me to this story, notes:

So in lieu of police help, victims are encouraged to bring their accusations to a Security Committee staffed with fellow activists. In other words, women are encouraged to forego their legal rights in order to have their case taken up by a powerless panel that can only issue toothless rulings. Apparently in OWS-land, the maximum punishment an “abuser” can expect to face is he will “no longer [be] welcome at the occupation.” But the pamphlet doesn’t say how exactly that will be enforced, and based on the fact OWS is opposed to police involvement, there’s no reason to think it even can be enforced. Maybe it just means the other activists will all give the abuser the silent treatment?

Feminists should condemn this. I wonder if they will.

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