Almost all movements for change have had to deal with issues of power, privilege, patriarchy, internal racism, etc. Though these are the things we are working to change in our larger world (domination, oppression, greed, etc.), we’ve all grown up in these worlds of inequality, so it’s unfortunate, but we often end up a microcosm with similar problems. Tragically, sexual assault is one of these rampant problems, and some people have sexually assaulted people within some Occupy encampments. Different Occupy groups will grapple with these issues in diverse ways, but here’s some ideas. We’ve seen amazing work done by people in Occupy groups on this rotten reality—working to create an environment where these violations are less likely to occur, and to provide support if they do! A strong movement works to address its own issues, while connecting them with the larger issues they are addressing. There are many resources and models to draw from out there for dealing with these issues. See the appendix for more.
Basic Steps to Preventing Sexual Assault
While nothing can prevent people from doing awful things, there are certain policies that Occupy groups could adopt that might help:
= Ask consent before touching. That means ask, “Can I hug you? Kiss you?” etc, and wait for the person to reply yes or no, instead of just going ahead and touching a person.
= Develop a system for dealing with assaults/boundary breaches to hold people accountable for their actions, and support all involved. Unaddressed problems within movements destroy them.
- = Provide teach-ins on abuse cycles, consent, and sexual assault.
- = Make it a priority that no one is forced to sleep near people they don’t know.
= Make safer sleeping areas. Some Occupy Wall Street groups have created areas for women-identified people, people with kids, sober, queer and/or trans-friendly areas.
= Create an overall space that values gender and sexual diversity; these values should be actively woven through all aspects of the Occupy sites, processes, and actions.
Occupy Wall Street Safer Space Training Document
Principles for anti-oppression
- = Practice listening.
- = Be aware of your own privilege and the space you occupy. = Understand that your experience is your own; don’t normalize it to the exclusion of others. = Validate other people’s experiences of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and other forms of oppression and work to counter them.
- = Don’t make assumptions about people’s identities.
- = Do not engage in silencing behavior; make room for everyone to speak.
Principles for survivor support
- = Believe the person when they tell you they were harmed.
- = Give agency to the person harmed to make their own decisions.
- = Enforce separation from the perpetuator if requested in order to provide safety. = Don’t assume what the person harmed needs: ask and offer options.= Ask before engaging in any physical contact, even if it seems harmless.
- = Try to keep the person engaged and present.
- = Recognize triggers and try to limit them.
De-escalation and nonviolent communication tactics
- = Speak from “I.”
- = Practice listening.
- = Take a walk if needed to remove the person from the space.
- = Identify and name problematic behaviors.
- = Acknowledge your own and the other person’s emotions (e.g. “It seems like we’re both tired.”) = Mirror the other person’s nonviolent actions and mannerisms to make them comfortable.
- = Be compassionate but be honest.
How to respond to an incident
- = End the immediate harm.
- = De-escalate and separate.
- = Ask the person who was harmed about their needs and allow the person to make choices. = Follow up.
Healing from Sexual Assault
Healing from sexual assault is similar to other types of traumas, but unique in its own ways, too. If friends, family, and one’s activist community respond with care and support that further empowers the survivor, it can help in the survivor’s recovery process.
Sexual assault survivors are often left with extreme feelings of shame, humiliation, powerlessness, and fear. The person who was assaulted (survivor) must be in charge of their followup. They need to know that they alone get to make the choice of whether they will go to a hospital for a forensic medical exam (commonly known as a “rape kit”), or notify police. A support person can offer suggestions, but can’t force the survivor to do anything.
A supporter should offer to accompany the survivor to a hospital or in dealing with a police report, but should not pressure them to do either. The supporter should not touch the survivor unless given consent. If the survivor does not want to file a police report, ask them what they want to happen to the perpetrator. Let the survivor know that they do not need to make these decisions right away. However, if there is any chance that the person might consider a medical exam, and/or legal proceedings, it is best if they do not shower or bathe right away, because evidence will be lost. Overall, the supporter must assure the survivor that they will do all they can to support them, and that the community will stand by the survivor’s wishes. The supporter must also do what they can to assure the survivor’s anonymity within the community.
It may be helpful to speak anonymously with a counselor at a rape crisis center directly by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE. It will connect you with a local rape crisis center.
Many resources are listed at www.rainn.org/get-information
Groups may want to provide further counseling for people who are in any way affected by a sexual assault, or by how the community has dealt with it. They may also want to provide conflict resolution/ mediation as a format for people to talk things through.
Some Occupy sites have groups which specifically formed to provide support and visibility for survivor issues and issues of consent. They have created wonderful documents for accountability processes, for supporting survivors, and for community response protocols. They have worked to educate everyone engaging with Occupy about sexual assault, domestic violence, and consent. They have created trainings for people who take shifts to be on call at the encampment if an event arises. Some have released press statements in response to sexual assaults that happened at their Occupy site. Safer Spaces in NYC released a statement about a sexual assault which happened at OWS: www.nycga.net/groups/safer-spaces-committee/docs/transforming- harm-building-safety-confronting-sexual-violence-at-occupy-wall- street-beyond-2