Occupy Wall Street: How About We Occupy Rape Culture?

“Our unity must be complex. Our unity must be emancipatory.” ““ Angela Davis, Oakland’s General Strike, Nov 2.

“Listen, if your revolution doesn’t implicitly and explicitly include a rejection of misogyny and other intersectional marginalizations, then you’re not staging a revolution; you’re staging a change in management.” ““ Melissa McEwan

On Wednesday November 2nd, more than 15,000 people participated in Oakland’s citywide general strike as part of Occupy Oakland.  And I wish I could write about that right now. I wish I could write about the 100,000 protestors that were there. I wish I could write about how amazing it is that demonstrators effectively shut down the Port of Oakland, the fifth largest port in the U.S. I wish I could write about how the media keeps treating the day as a violent outbreak or just plain-up dismissing it. I would love to expand on the metaphor handed from the gods of how a white man ran over two protesters with his Mercedes Benz because he was “frustrated” and was then given police permission to drive away scot-free.

Instead I think we need to occupy some goddamn rape culture. Let’s start from the top.

In Zuccotti Park, Tonye Iketubosin, a kitchen worker with OWS, has been charged with groping an 18-year-old female demonstrator, as well as being a suspect in the rape of another 18-year-old  demonstrator. In Glasgow, a 28-year-old woman was raped at the George Square encampment early in the morning and police are currently investigating the attack. That’s just this week alone.

Then there’s the rape of a 19-year-old disabled woman at Occupy Cleveland, (who was then accused of secretly working with the government), the sexual assault of a 14-year-old runaway at Occupy Dallas (another “isolated incident”), and the still-standing controversy around Occupy Baltimore with alleged sexual assaults within the camp to the memo released by organizers on ways to report sexual abuse internally, a notice which left many feeling like the issue was being rerouted as nothing more than personal complaints, as opposed to actual sexual assault.

According to (NBC) reporter Tom Beres, the big question is: “How much damage this will do to all the work that has been done and the future of the occupation.” Really? Is that the big question, or is it, “Was this woman raped and if so by whom? The report gets worse from there”¦ After a recitation of the charges and what amounts to a denial by organizers, i.e. we don’t make sleeping assignments (sic), the report goes completely off the rails. We get a reaction from someone who isn’t named and reportedly isn’t part of the protest but is “familiar” with it: I don’t believe any of these guys would do anything like that there. So I think someone probably brought her here, set her here and to spend the night and hang out with them for one day just to say she was raped.  – Local NBC Butchers Occupy Cleveland Rape Case with Bias. (highlighted on Occupy Patriarchy)

Occupy Lawrence dealt with their own sexual assault case, as well as Oakland. A Seattle man involved with the Occupy movement was caught exposing himself, and Occupy Portland urged the suspect of the sexual assault of a young women to leave the camp before police arrived and at Occupy New Hampshire, a woman has been charged with pimping out a 16-year-old girl. Ashwini Hardikar spoke on her own experience, and she is not alone.

Greenstreet created “Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street” and Julian Assange became a fixture of Occupy London. Then there’s this little gem tweeted by Occupy LSX and also this diamond by Joseph Hunter, aka, @anti_feminist and his thoughts on the matter:

Did I mention that November 19th is “Occupy a Vagina Day”?  From their Facebook page: “With the occupy movement growing so much it is time that everyone occupies a vagina! Unless of course you have one, then you need yours occupied!!!”

Though really, the worst is that there are folks who think these are just isolated incidents and that there are things bigger than us. That’s what it keeps coming down to. There are “bigger things” than all of us, though these things seem suspiciously easier to deal with when you aren’t necessarily the target of rape culture. It’s also easy to believe that you don’t stand for rape culture when it is a more concrete example of power, like the threat of sexual assault from police officers. But when it’s your own assaulting your own? Well… then it’s different.

Well, “us” says hell no. “Us” makes up this movement- and “us” ain’t just women with a capital W. “Us” are not down with excusing rape culture for the cause. From Sarah Seltzer’s “Where Are The Women at Occupy Wall Street? Everywhere– And They’re Not Going Away”:

The dozen women I spoke to for this story–most of them queer-identified and/or women of color–have witnessed varying amounts of offensive behavior, such as unwanted touching or use of casually misogynist language, within the movement. And they also differ as to the extent to which they think they can elbow the “isms” out of their space. But for the most part they share a defiant hope; just maybe, they say, for once, a mobilization for social change can get it right: maintain a broad base of support, connect the dots between different kinds of injustice and achieve staying power. Their fervent wish is that the movement’s careful attention to inclusive structure, including “safe space” caucuses and working groups and a commitment to anti-oppression training, means not that misogyny will vanish altogether but rather that diverse voices will remain a core part of the movement.

OWS organizers have responded by creating a guarded sleeping area and have emphasized the need for safe spaces within OWS, but the fact remains that growing security concerns, especially sexual assault and rape, are becoming a serious issue. While many are still cautious in throwing themselves into such environments, there are those taking measures for the creation of a less threatening environment. I spoke with Suzy Exposito, an organizer in Occupy Wall Street’s Safer Spaces Committee on the actions that are being taken. From Suzy:

Safer Spaces started out by making impromptu announcements at the general assembly about consent, boundaries and offensive language. We often had to wait until the end of the assembly to make these announcements, until we became an official working group.  Now we have a member report back with the other groups at the GA. We’ve recently collaborated with a group of radical social workers and trained mediators in scheduling anti-oppression workshops and “Community Watch” shifts for anyone at the occupation. The Community Watch is a new thing. In tandem with the Medical, Security and Mediation teams at OWS, we started a program in which we schedule shifts for people to walk around the space. They walk in pairs, or sometimes as a group, throughout the night. This is just to look out for people who need help, who are being violent, or who are using drugs/drinking out in the open. The current method of confronting violence, though, is to identify and isolate the perpetrator/assaulted, call the Mediation/Security folks and talk to them individually. In cases of sexual assault, the survivor would be asked whether they’d like to go to the hospital, call the police, and/or (as these are not mutually exclusive) go forward with an accountability process.

Accountability processes are usually tailored to the survivor’s needs. They may not want to face their attacker. The attacker may be removed from the space temporarily or indefinitely, but meanwhile they would have to go through an educational process on consent. They also usually make a statement, publicly or privately, of apology and accountability. Safer Spaces is trying to work out whether we would allow a perp back into the space, with or without an accountability process. In the meantime we’ve been drafting a community agreement, a document that states the conditions under which people are allowed to stay in the park. This has been reviewed at the GA and is still a work in progress. It’s also controversial, as some complain that we’re basically policing the space (except, you know, we don’t have weapons or structural leverage). But it’s called a community agreement because, as people bring it to the GA for amendments, it is a public document developed by the community.

In addition to these measures, “Safe Space Sleepovers,” as mentioned before, have been becoming more frequent. Two people take shifts and while it is currently not a regular event, the Safe Spaces committee are working together to make it another part of the Occupy movement. Which is great, because there are folks bussing in from all over. Support is pouring in from folks everywhere. The Safer Spaces Committee has released an official statement as of this afternoon, which you can read here.

Here’s the thing, though. What does it mean if those who say they are fighting against the system are recreating the system? What does it mean when rape and sexual assault are excused because there are “bigger things than us”? What does it mean when you disenfranchise the same folks you are claiming to fight for? Why are specialized spaces having to be created for those affected most by rape culture or gender based violence? Why can’t everyone be able to be full participants in the same space? Where is the miscommunication about that whole 99% thing happening?

Many–typically straight white men–claim that talking about gender and race will only divide us, when what we need is to be standing together and focusing on how we’re all the same. But the reality is that we do not all experience oppression in the same ways. There is value in uniting”“the “˜Occupy’ movement’s slogan that “we are the 99%” is a powerful one”“but our experiences still differ based on race, class, gender and sexual orientation. It is perhaps a well-intentioned notion to imagine that we can unite in a way that transcends these categories, but it’s a notion that has no basis in the reality of our society. Because these categories, however artificially constructed they might be, still play a huge role in how and to what degree we are exploited, it is impossible to fight oppressive forces without acknowledging the reality of how they function. We can stand in solidarity with one another without pretending that our experiences are identical. In fact, I would argue that the only true solidarity is one in which we fully recognize and respect both how our struggles are alike and how they differ. ““ Angi Becker Stevens. “Why Safety Is Essential In Order For Women To Fully Participate in the Occupy Movement.”

Though really, the salt in the wound on this whole manner is the sudden interest in rape and sexual assault by conservative media outlets, an attempt that’s enough to make anyone see red because when the right isn’t expressing this concern, they sure are doing everything they can to take away plenty of measures that fight against rape culture and see no problems with using aggressive language to degrade people like Elizabeth Warren.

Women deserve to start the conversations about the impact of economic inequality, to participate in the conversations, to change the conversations, and to end the conversations–and they deserve to do those things while not facing police brutality, while not experiencing sexist attacks, and while not being sexually objectified. All those things work in tandem to further take away power from women, and we need women in this fight.

We support the Occupy Together movement while acknowledging that it needs to work to make spaces safe for women, and to fight sexism and misogyny when it creeps in. – Women Occupy’s mission statement, Women Occupy Facebook 

The sexual violence and harassment that is happening in Occupy camps cannot be ignored and cannot be thrown to the side in favor of the “real issues.” These are the real issues and they don’t lie.

People wonder why women don’t “fight back,” but they don’t wonder about it when women back down in arguments, are interrupted, purposefully lower and modulate their voices to express less emotion, make obvious signals that they are uninterested in conversation or being in closer physical proximity and are ignored. They don’t wonder about all those daily social interactions in which women are quieter, ignored, or invisible, because those social interactions seem normal. They seem normal to women, and they seem normal to men, because we were all raised in the same cultural pond, drinking the same Kool-Aid.

And then, all of a sudden, when women are raped, all these natural and invisible social interactions become evidence that the woman wasn’t truly raped. Because she didn’t fight back, or yell loudly, or run, or kick, or punch. She let him into her room when it was obvious what he wanted. She flirted with him, she kissed him. She stopped saying no, after a while. ““ Harriet J,  “Another Post About Rape

Cause folks, we are either fighting for it all, or it’s just new folks and the same old shit.

 For more information, follow @womenoccupy or the following hashtags: #occupyrapeculture #occupypatriarchy  #womenoccupy #evictrapeculture

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