Many Occupy protests have shown a willingness to work with police to prevent sexual assault. But a memo circulated at the Occupy Baltimore protests has sparked controversy by appearing to discourage reporting sexual assault to the authorities.
The Baltimore Sun reports that the "security statement" recently distributed at the protest instructed victims of sexual abuse "to immediately report the incident to the Security Committee" (not the police) and noted that the Committee would "supply the abuser with counseling resources." The statement also says, "Though we do not encourage the involvement of the police in our community, the survivor has every right, and the support of Occupy Baltimore, to report the abuse to the appropriate authorities." Some are concerned that this language will actually discourage abuse victims from going to the police — says Jacqueline Robarge of the nonprofit Power Inside, "It might actually passively prevent someone from seeking justice."
Though the statement does say victims have the "right" to contact police, some protesters seem to feel this should be a last resort. Occupy Baltimore spokesperson Jessica Lewis says that the statement "in no way discourages people to contact the police" but that the protest is "trying to be a self-contained community and deal with conflicts internally as much as possible." Melissa "Koala" Largess, author of the security statement and listed "point person" for allegations of sexual abuse, adds that "there are a lot of ways people can deal with assault and conflict. The way we all know is to make someone wrong and punish them instead of work with them to correct their behavior." She also says that as a survivor of an abusive relationship, she wants "the person who harmed me to work on issues and get the help needed to be a functioning member of society." But, she clarifies, "I'm not against people taking the steps they feel they need to stay safe. … From my own perspective and experience, I understand the necessity of calling police."
While neither Largess nor Lewis is explicitly telling victims not to contact authorities, they're certainly suggesting that's not the preferred response. This is especially disturbing in Largess's case: the point person for sexual abuse and assault claims is apparently someone who believes these claims should be addressed by "working with" the abuser, something many victims may have no desire to do. Robarge and Rosalyn Branson of TurnAround Inc also point out that the Occupy protesters don't appear to be trained in sexual assault response, nor does the memo offer contact info for anyone who is. And they say that mediation and other responses to sex crimes that don't involve the justice system haven't proven effective. Other Occupy protests have acknowledged that while they may have issues with the police, sexual assault allegations are too serious not to involve them. Occupy Baltimore should do the same.
'Occupy' Memo Could Discourage Victims From Reporting Assaults [Baltimore Sun]
#OccupyBaltimore Discourages Sexual Assault Victims From Contacting Police, Offers Counseling For Perpetrators [MyOpenForum]