Rape and the Occupy Movement

by Maeve McKeown

On October 26th a woman was raped at Occupy Glasgow and the previous week a woman was raped at Occupy Cleveland.  There has been relatively little reporting on these incidents, either in the news or among activists.  The incidents are a dreadful personal tragedy for the women involved, but what do they mean for the Occupy movement more generally?  In this article, I suggest there is a deep tension in the movement between collective politics and individual autonomy, and a serious lack of feminist understanding.

Collective Responsibility

Violence against women is a pervasive problem across society, and sadly, it doesn’t stop at the doors of activists.  What is different about rape occurring at occupations, however, is the fact that the activists have formed into groups, presumably taking some responsibility for each other.  In some ways the groups’ responses to what has happened to individuals who were under their care is as shocking and saddening as the incidents themselves. 

Both occupations sought to distance themselves from the women who were raped.  Occupy Glasgow said that,

"Occupy Glasgow is shocked and deeply saddened about the alleged sexual assault on one of the individuals that have been co-inhabiting George Square with the separate Occupy Glasgow movement.



Since October 15, Occupy Glasgow have provided free food, shelter and clothing to some individuals who had none of their own and we immensely regret any harm that may have befallen one of these individuals.” (my emphasis)

Occupy Glasgow claimed the woman was part of a separate group, so not under their care.

The woman at Occupy Cleveland, a 19 year old with learning difficulties, was told by the organisers to share a tent with the man who raped her.  When questioned on this one of the organisers said, “your assignment would be your own choice of what you want to do.”  The reasoning behind this statement is that Occupy is a leaderless movement – nobody is officially told what they are supposed to do, so everything is in effect a personal choice.  This is true even for a young, novice activist with learning difficulties.  They also said, “this is all about personal decision and consent and we offer tents and that’s all.”

In other words, both occupations claimed it was the women’s personal responsibility that a) she was camping with them and b) she was raped; instead of recognising that the group had some responsibility for the women’s safety.  In one respect, this can be interpreted as victim-blaming.  Of course, if an adult joins an occupation it is their choice.  However, the establishment of camps sets up expectations that participants will look out for each other and, at minimum, respect each other.  Probably the last thing the women were thinking was that they might be raped if they joined the occupations – they probably assumed the opposite, that there is safety in numbers - so to argue their it was their own choice to be there and that they bear the risks of sexual violence that arise from that is wrong.  That is not a risk they should have had to bear because it was not a foreseeable risk, and therefore not something they can be held responsible for. 

Moreover, the individualistic responses of the groups are illogical and incoherent because the Occupy groups can bear collective responsibility.  According to methodological individualists there is no such thing as collective responsibility.  Groups are simply the sum of individual actions.  This seems deeply counter-intuitive, however.  It means that corporations cannot bear responsibility for what they do, so BP could not be said to bear responsibility for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It also means that states can’t bear responsibility for their wrongdoings. 

In the 70s and 80s, philosophers who sought a concept of collective responsibility were particularly concerned to find a way to avoid individuals failing to act when somebody needs help.  They were motivated by, amongst other incidents, the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in New York in 1964, in which thirty-eight separate individuals were aware of what was happening and did nothing.  This is a classic example of the bystander effect - an emergency situation where no one helps the victim.  Philosophers argued that members of communities have a responsibility to look out for each other in order to prevent such harms befalling group members.  The question in the case at hand is whether the Occupy groups in which the rapes occurred can be held collectively responsible for the rape of women in their care.

In the Genovese case the individuals in the vicinity were random and had no connections to each other.  It is highly contested whether such aggregates can bear any responsibility for the harms that befall the victims.  By contrast, the occupations are groups.  Among theorists of collective responsibility there is a considerable degree of consensus about when “conglomerate” groups can bear responsibility qua group.  According to Peter French’s influential distinction between aggregate and conglomerate collectivities, a conglomerate collectivity is a group that has a decision-making structure, an enforced code of conduct for individuals that doesn’t apply outside the group, and an identity that is more than the sum of individual members (if people leave or join the group, the identity of the group remains the same).  These types of groups can bear collective responsibility, e.g. corporations or states.

The Occupy groups meet these standards.  They have internal decision-making structures – general meetings.  They have codes of conduct for members.  And, they have identities that are more than the sum of the individual members – Occupy Glasgow will be Occupy Glasgow if some members leave or if new people join.  In other words, the Occupy groups can plausibly be said to bear collective responsibility for their members. 

To say that these groups can bear collective responsibility is not necessarily to blame them for the rapes occurring.  However, it does mean that they should have accepted that for harm to befall a group member means that the group is at least partly responsible.  In light of this, the responses of both occupations to the rapes are particularly shocking.  Despite the fact that the occupations act as groups, speak as groups, and exist as groups, the women who were raped are on their own.  I’m sure that the groups are happy to claim the women’s positive contributions as part of the group effort: for example, if one of the women had organised a successful flashmob the group would be happy to claim it as part of Occupy Glasgow or Cleveland.  Once something bad happens to a member, however, it has nothing to do with the group; if a woman has been raped it is her own fault for being there in the first place.  In Glasgow, they claimed she wasn’t really part of the group anyway; in Cleveland, a 19-year old apparently should not have done what the organisers told her she ought to do.

Acting as a group means taking responsibility for the good and the bad, not claiming that bad things are a question of personal responsibility of the victims.  Moreover, if the groups want to make it about personal responsibility, why bring the victims in at all?  The group could have supported the victims and shunned the rapists. 

In my view, there is a serious problem here.  The inability of the Occupy groups to recognise their collective responsibility for members is symptomatic of a deeper ideological problem.

Autonomy, Security and Vulnerable People

The first assumption of autonomist movements is that people are autonomous.  Is this true?  Are people autonomous?  Some are, most aren’t.  Many people are dependent: children are dependent, the elderly are dependent, many adults are dependent through disability, mental or physical ill-health; and most adults will go through some phases of dependency over the course of their lifetime. 

There are degrees of non-autonomy.  Dependency is at the extreme end.  Vulnerability is also on that scale.  Many groups in society are vulnerable due to prejudice, ignorance, oppression and domination by more powerful groups.  Women are vulnerable in this way.  To be clear, it’s not that women are incapable of achieving autonomy, of course they are; it’s that the social conditions of sexist societies constrain their autonomy.  The constraints on women’s autonomy are external, not internal, and it is these external conditions that generate women’s vulnerability. 

Many people have overlapping vulnerabilities.  For example, the woman at Occupy Glasgow was pregnant, and the woman at Occupy Cleveland was a 19 year old who attends a high school for teenagers with learning difficulties.  It’s not about placing people in boxes according to their objectively defined vulnerabilities, “you are a woman, you go here”.  It’s about being sensitive to the multiplicity of individuals’ circumstances and needs.

Starting from the assumption that people are autonomous obscures the fact that most people aren’t.  Autonomy for all might be a goal, but it does not accord with reality.  In its crudest forms, autonomism starts from the viewpoint of the privileged and generalizes from that viewpoint, and in so doing it occludes difference.  For a movement that claims to speak for the 99%, it is not good enough to only speak for, and provide a space for, autonomous people.  If you are going to provide a space for “the 99%”, it must be recognized that many people have vulnerabilities, which generate different needs. 

The first step in dealing with difference is recognizing it.  Then once it is recognized, finding ways to accommodate it.  Women’s vulnerability to sexual violence needs to be recognized in order to find measures to mitigate it.  It’s not about patronizing women and ensuring that the “autonomous men” protect the “vulnerable women”, it is the social conditions that need to be addressed and mitigated.  It could be argued that it is overly demanding of fleeting protest camps to mitigate the threat of violence against women.  But the converse is that if they fail to do so, they are not representing the 99%.  It’s simply another case of the privileged claiming to speak, and act, on behalf of everyone else. 

It is not realistic to assume that once people join an “autonomous zone” that individuals will shed decades of socialization in sexist norms and suddenly treat each other equally.  It’s essential, in that case, to come up with a viable alternative for security, which treats people’s vulnerability seriously.  Autonomists have obvious and valid complaints against the police.  But hating the police is not the same as hating security.  Vulnerable people require some form of security; an all-out rejection of security leaves the vulnerable even more vulnerable.  Of course, the need for security can be hard to see from the viewpoint of male privilege and the belief that you can protect yourself.  It’s not so easy when you’re a woman, you’re pregnant or have learning difficulties, and are sleeping in a tent in a city centre or park.

Interestingly, both Occupy Glasgow and Occupy Cleveland have said that they are “working with the police”.  The police (rightly) have a terrible rep among activists in the UK.  They are brutal, unaccountable, have done morally outrageous things like allowing undercover agents to have relationships with activists, beating people nearly to death etc.  It’s also true that the police protect the interests of private property (i.e. the interests of a few rich people against the great unwashed masses).  But they also serve another function.  That is, to protect individual members of society from each other.

I’m not going to eulogise the police here.  Clearly when it comes to rape, the track record of the police and the criminal justice system in both the UK and US is abominable.  But if you ask the majority of women (anarcha-feminists excluded) if they would want to live in a society with no police force, I would hazard a guess that they would say no.  The police at least provide some sense of security against the threat of violence from male spouses, family members, friends, acquaintances, strangers and activists; and a very distant glimmer of hope that you might get justice.  This is not to say that society could not find a better way to organize security than a police force.  Maybe it could, maybe it couldn’t.  But as long as patriarchy rules, some form of protection is needed.  A “Safer Spaces Policy” isn’t going to cut it.  Relying on comrades for protection, if the actions of Occupy Glasgow and Cleveland are anything to go by, is not very reassuring.

It’s not just about security and “protecting the vulnerable”, however.  It’s about creating a culture where rape and sexual assault will not be tolerated; ensuring men don’t rape.  Misogynistic power relations need to be understood and interrupted.  The men involved in the Occupy movement, or men who join the camps however fleetingly, need to know that rape and sexual assault or harassment will absolutely not be tolerated.  They will be immediately evicted from the camps if they harass women, and handed in to the police if they rape or assault a woman.  Security is only one side of the coin when it comes to preventing rape; the more important side is men not raping.

There is a tension in the Occupy movement between speaking as a collective – “we are the 99%” – and emphasising individual autonomy.  If you speak as a “we”, you are speaking as a group.  The group needs to provide security for its group members and foster a culture of equality and intolerance of persecution of oppressed social groups.  The fact that the occupations act as groups but then stress individual autonomy when the group fails in its responsibilities highlights this internal ideological tension.  The occupy movement needs to decide what it is – are the camps “collectives”, or simply aggregates of individuals?  If it is the former, they need to take some responsibility and provide security for group members and change their internal cultures.  If it is the latter, they will only be safe for already autonomous individuals and cannot hope to speak on behalf of the 99%.

What next?

The Occupy movement needs a serious injection of feminist politics.  This doesn’t mean having a token female facilitator at meetings or patting one’s self on the back for listening to a woman speak until she has finished; it means recognising that women have different needs that need to be met and finding practical and viable ways of meeting those needs.  The fact that there has been scant discussion of these rapes and what to do about it highlights the fact that, even among activists, violence against women is not taken as seriously as it should be.  The Occupy movement needs to wake up to this problem and do something about it.

So far I have only addressed the attacks in Glasgow and Cleveland, but there have been other reported rapes in the Occupy movement.  A known sex offender has been arrested for the rape of a 14-year-old girl at Occupy Dallas.  A woman was raped and robbed at Occupy Baltimore.  Occupy Baltimore distributed leaflets encouraging members not to report sexual assaults to the police but to report it to the group instead.  There have been accusations of sexual assaults at Zuccotti Park, and at Occupy Portland and Oakland.  These rapes are not unfortunate one-off incidents: they represent a systematic failure. 

Interestingly, Occupy LSX’s new venture, The Bank of Ideas, is non-residential and has a ban on drugs and alcohol.  Obviously, the physical presence of the Occupy protests over the long-term in city centres is part of what’s made them so visible and important.  However, if it puts vulnerable people in danger then I would suggest this tactic needs some reconsideration.  Non-residential protests don’t put women at risk in the same way.  In light of this, I think the non-residential Bank of Ideas is a step in the right direction. 

To anticipate some criticisms, let me clarify a few points.  Firstly, I’m not saying inclusion is the be-all and end-all of all protest movements.  I’m saying that for a movement that claims to speak on behalf of the 99% it is crucial.  If the Occupy movement is claiming to speak for the 99%, they need to recognise the multifarious needs of different types of people, and to cater for them.  It’s no good saying “We are the 99%” but we exclude disabled people.  Or “We are the 99%” but if you’re a woman you’re responsible for your own safety.  We might be “the 99%” economically (and even that is a dubious claim), but we are not all white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied men; most of us aren’t and we need our differing needs met if we are going to camp outside together.

Another criticism will be how can I possibly suggest the police have any good qualities whatsoever.  They are our oppressors!  To reiterate, I’m not saying the police per se are good, I’m saying institutional security in some form is essential as long as social inequalities and oppression exist.  I’m also arguing that collectivities ought to provide security for their members; which in the case of states is the police force, in the case of occupations it still needs to be worked out.

Finally, it could be argued that I haven’t really recommended anything apart from injecting feminist politics into the movement, which potentially means shutting the residential camps down.  I don’t mean to put a dampener on the future of long-term direct action.  The wave of resistance that has emerged across the globe this year has been an inspiration.  The point I wish to make, however, is that if you’re going to have live-in protests, it is essential to ensure that members of the group are not endangered by that protest.  Steps must be taken to prevent sexual violence in the camps, and members of the groups need to take responsibility for each other and make amends when collective responsibility fails.  Otherwise other forms of protest should be taken up instead.  In this respect, here are a few concrete suggestions:

Like I have argued above, this spate of rapes and sexual violence that has plagued the Occupy movement is not a case of unfortunate isolatable incidents.  It is a systematic failure.  It is a failure to recognise women’s needs, a failure to have learnt anything from the feminist movement, a failure to recognise vulnerability and non-autonomy, and a failure to accept collective responsibility.  All this can be traced to the inner tension between collective politics and individual autonomy.  The short-term solution is to stop camping, or to provide effective security and make sure men know they will be arrested immediately if they sexually assault someone; the long-term solution is to work out what this movement is really about.

More Analysis

http://persephonemagazine.com/2011/11/occupy-wall-street-how-about-we-occupy-rape-culture/
http://mhairi.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/de-occupy-glasgow/
http://globalcomment.com/2011/how-occupys-non-power-structure-enables-sexism/
http://thefeministwire.com/2011/11/occupy-rape-culture/
http://occupypatriarchy.org/about/

Online debates

http://www.urban75.net/forums/threads/woman-raped-at-occupy-glasgow.283207/
http://libcom.org/forums/news/occupy-rapes-26102011

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First published: 13 December, 2011

Category: Gender equality, Vision/Strategy

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21 Comments on "Rape and the Occupy Movement"

By Guy Halsall, on 13 December 2011 - 12:12 |

A good, thoughtful piece.  I’m surprised that the mainstream media haven’t made more of this but, as you say, it does highlight important problems with the Occupy movement.  I think that one strategy is to avoid the word ‘individual’, which is fundamentally a capitalist concept and which, as you imply, disintegrates under close scrutiny - even with people who are not dependent upon others in the way you describe.  I wrote some fairly inchoate and rambling thoughts on this, from a historian’s perspective, on my own blog: http://600transformer.blogspot.com/2011/11/meandering-from-individual-to-human.html

By jb, on 13 December 2011 - 12:24 |

Very interesting article, but I was put off by the uncritical citation of the Kitty Genovese case. This is widely recognised now not to have happened as described here (“thirty-eight separate individuals were aware of what was happening and did nothing”) and to be instead an instance of seeking parables to encapsulate a fear of the masses. See:
 - www.psych.lancs.ac.uk/people/uploads/MarkLevine20070604T095238.pdf 
or just the wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Kitty_Genovese

By Neil C, on 13 December 2011 - 13:47 |

I think one of the strengths of this article is how by focusing on the issue of sexual assault it casts light more widely on some of the most important inter-linked ideological and organisational flaws generally present in the Occupy movement .  

Ideologically I have not got the impression that Occupy is fully aware and has begun to practically challenge some of the deep currents and consequences of the predominant ideology of negative liberty in our modern capitalist culture. As regards organisation, although I agree that Occupy groups meet the definition of conglomerate collectivities, I think the problem is that they tend to meet all three criteria i.e. a decision-making structure, an enforced code of individual conduct inside the group, and a supra-individual identity only weakly at the moment.

Until Occupy groups effectively start challenging these fundamental issues I fear that they will be hampered in developing and projecting collective responsibility and solidarity both within the group and outwards to the wider society.  As serious as rape and other sexual assault is I feel the author’s critique has far wider ramifications.

By Jerry Simon, on 13 December 2011 - 16:00 |

Sorry, don’t quite understand some of the long-worded comments like “the word ‘individual’... is fundamentally a capitalist concept”. No, it’s the word “individual”, why confuse the issue?

“Ideologically I have not got the impression that Occupy is fully aware and has begun to practically challenge some of the deep currents and consequences of the predominant ideology of negative liberty in our modern capitalist culture.” - Occupy are people questioning where we’re going as an inequitable society, many Occupiers are young and new to protest & know they aren’t “fully aware”, and are not versed in the jargon you use, or the conceptual framework you’re observing them through, and maybe don’t want to be anyway. Ideological flaws? Don’t protest until you’ve studied politics for years and know all the words, is that what you’re saying?

And for what it’s worth, I think these rapes are really bad, the Occupiers probably never IMAGINED this outcome because they might not have come into contact with people behaving like this before, and their response shows they haven’t yet come to terms with it. And OF COURSE police should be involved> Just because police have made some VERY bad moves in SOME of the Occupy protests, in SOME of the locations, doesn’t automatically mean that the whole thing is anti-police, anti-rule of law - many protesters are not questioning the validity of the rule of law, they are questioning why it’s one law for the rich and one for the poor. Policeman or woman does NOT automatically equal “ENEMY!”

If these protests become seen as the preserve of people who glory in being the special ones who look down on ordinary people and their concerns, and speak a jargon you need to become educated in before you know what anyone’s talking about, then they’ll prove to be total a waste of everybody’s time and a just a wee bit of self-indulgence in effect.

By Rae C, on 13 December 2011 - 17:06 |

I couldn’t finish reading this after the allegations of what happened at OccupyCleveland. I would like to clarify, as an occupier who was THERE at the time of this alleged rape.

Let me make a few points clear.

1. *NO ONE* at the camp was told where to sleep. No organizers said, “You have to sleep here.” That simply did not happen. 

2. The alleged rape happened at 9pm on a Friday night. The camp quiet time was at 11pm. So if anything happened, there were people around to alert. By this point in time, we had established a Nightwatch, where at least 4 people would take 4-hour shifts and patrol the camp, making sure everything was okay.

3. The woman of the incident, after what happened at *****9pm on FRIDAY NIGHT***** stayed at the camp for the rest of the weekend. She did not leave until Sunday.

4. The rape was not reported until MONDAY, at her school. For the whole weekend she was at OccupyCleveland, she did not say a word to anyone.

5. No one at the camp (me included) has any recollection of the man who was claimed to have raped her. She said his name was Leiland, and that he was a black male. OccupyCleveland was not big enough for there to be people unnoticed. If this man was there, he would have been seen.

6. No charges were pressed, against the camp or the attacker. The case was dropped due to lack of evidence.

The girl stuck around camp all weekend, and attached herself to one of the Nightwatch/Peacekeepers, a man. He told me, PERSONALLY, that the investigators of the case asked him to go to the girl’s house to get more information from her, since she stuck around him for the rest of the weekend. When the man went to her house, no one answered. As he left, she came out the door, slapped him in the face, and said that it was all his fault.

You can make of this what you will. If the girl was really raped, that is truly terrible. I’m just saying that the story doesn’t add up, it doesn’t make sense, and OccupyCleveland had made plenty of precautions to make sure this didn’t happen. OC definitely wouldn’t force a woman to sleep in a tent with a man she didn’t know. I can attest to that.

By Ellie Mae O'Hagan, on 13 December 2011 - 19:57 |

I’m amazed at the above comment.

If Maeve’s impression of the camp is inaccurate, that’s one thing, but to pick apart the girl’s story like that is really quite unedifying.

She was stayed on the camp after she was allegedly raped, therefore her story ‘doesn’t add up.’ Where else would you apply that theory? To a woman who stayed married to her husband after he raped her?

She got clingy with another camper then slapped him. Maybe she’s crazy. Or maybe she’s acting irrationally because, you know, she was raped.

And then, after you pour scorn on her story, you wonder why it took her so long to report it. Maybe it was because she was full of shit. Or maybe it was because she was worried people would come to exactly the same conclusions as you did. And by the way, MOST rape cases are dropped at the first hurdle - often because police don’t believe the victims.

I’m a supporter of the Occupy movement, but the way to make it a success is not to rebuke any form of criticism - ESPECIALLY if the form your rebuke takes is lapsing into tired old ‘perfect victim’ theories. Whatever happened at Occupy Cleveland, Maeve has raised issues that should be welcomed by everyone involved in Occupy. Because it is only when we confront problems like this that we can improve things.

To me, your response alone suggests Occupy isn’t quite the utopia you’d like to think it is.

By Kate Belgrave, on 13 December 2011 - 21:31 |

I think the reason this piece appeals so much to me is that it is really a parable of the female condition as many of us experience it.

I don’t know enough about the occupy movement to comment on it, but I do know a lot about being excluded for being female, even as the rhetoric of inclusion is spouted. Make a complaint about sexist remarks and the most surprising men will try and make a joke of it, or tell you to lighten up. Raise issues of sexism and people tell you to pipe down, in case you make others feel threatened and bad. Those things have happened time and time again throughout my life. I’m tough as an old trainer, but that doesn’t stop me fuming. You can be tough and able to take it and still know that your “humourlessness” about your gender means you must forever live outside the circle.

By Kate Belgrave, on 13 December 2011 - 21:45 |

My thoughts entirely, Ellie. The language in that comment got on my wick badly. Women who are raped must behave like rape victims, whatever the hell that means. Do anything a bit off the wall and hey - you’re probably just making it all up.

By Lisa Ansell, on 13 December 2011 - 21:49 |

This was a great piece. What I would say is about this line:-

‘‘To anticipate some criticisms, let me clarify a few points.  Firstly, I’m not saying inclusion is the be-all and end-all of all protest’‘. Actually, given this is a protest about inequality, and the marginalisation that inequality results, in then inclusion should ABSOLUTELY be the be all and end all. Because we have seen in the past year what happens when inclusion is an afterthought if people can be bothered.

By Lisa Ansell, on 13 December 2011 - 21:55 |

As for the comment by the guy above. Occupy membership does not require being present at the camp. She was at occupy, she IS part of occupy, and WE are also part of occupy and the argument above still stands, even after everything you wrote. Your post demonstrating the problem rather than responding to the article.

By telaversion, on 14 December 2011 - 01:27 |

announced a new working group at OLSX at GA today to focus upon all discrimination ... inspired by this article. Would appreciate any advice/help folk have to offer

By Robert McLaren, on 14 December 2011 - 02:24 |

Rae C:First let me say that, while it is not the most important thing about the rape at Occupy Cleveland by a long way, the incident undermined some of the important work which you and others at the occupation have done and this is a real cause for sorrow and anger. I won’t pretend to know if you feel any of those things but I feel it should be stated that you have a right to. Now on to our dispute . 

You write that: “*NO ONE* at the camp was told where to sleep”.  I don’t think the article is alleging that the woman who was raped was told to sleep in the tent in the sense you mean - “You have to sleep here.” - but that she was told to sleep there, in the sense of “here is a tent for you to sleep in” or even “this tent is free”. Why is the latter also problematic? Because in order to choose to sleep somewhere else one has to create a bit of a problem by rejecting the offer made.  How exactly one should explain to people their sleeping options and make them the feel comfortable about asking further questions, raising concern etc. is something that needs to be worked out. (Maybe some people at some occupations have worked it out - or at least are doing an exemplary job of it). 

You go on to give what you think is evidence to suggest that the woman’s allegation is false. This does nothing to undermine the points made in this article. The relevant fact is that someone has alleged she was raped at OccupyCleveland and that fact should be taken very seriously. It would be ridiculous (and indeed grotesque) the take some evidence against the allegation as a reason to lessen the seriousness with which to take it. Furthermore, your six points not only fail to defend OccupyCleveland they are objectionable in their own right.

Firstly no one can form any picture whatsoever of the credibility of the allegations without having seen the fruits of a serious investigation - and even then this may not be possible. As such you have no basis to say that “the story doesn’t add up, it doesn’t make sense”. We are not in a position to assess the credibility of the allegations and it is, I think, wrong to speculate about their credibility in a public forum. (I will often drop the “alleged” while talking about an alleged rape, not because I propose that a rape definitely took place but because the term “alleged rape” has connotations which lead people to disregard such allegations and even to view the complainant as some kind of troublemaker).

Secondly there a problems with each particular point: On 1. As I have said we may mean different things by ”told where to sleep” but even if we don’t there is no way you can know that this “simply did not happen”. You have at least one good reason to think that it did: the testimony of the woman in question. On 2. It is good to have “people around to alert” but if you think the fact the no one was alerted is evidence that nothing happened then you have a very strange idea about what rape is.On 3. Again, is hard not to think you make this claim as supposed counter evidence to the victim’s allegations. If so you are once again operating from a ludicrous idea about rape and what it does to people. On 4. as above. On 6. as above. On the unnumbered point beginning ““The girl stuck around camp all weekend…”. As above. 

Needless to say none of what you’ve reported is not-normal behaviour for someone who has been raped. It doesn’t seem as if you have thought seriously about these claims about how people act after having been raped and this is not the sort of subject about which one should to make such bold claims without serious thought. On. 5. “If this man was there, he would have been seen.” First it is possible that the man gave a false name. Second it is hard to be certain about such a, so called, subjunctive conditional. It’s hard sometimes to remember a particular thing one saw, let alone remember that one didn’t see something, let alone remember that everything one saw rules out the possibility of some particular unseen thing. Thirdly some people in the camp *might* be pretending, to themselves and/or others, that they didn’t see any black men except those they recognised clearly as people known by names other than Leiland -because some people might prefer to think that no rape took place. 

As should be clear by now I think your comment is an example of the kind of poor reaction to instances of rape at occupy encampments which the article criticises. 

By Neil C, on 14 December 2011 - 02:37 |

Wrt Jerry Simon’s comment: I’m sorry, you’re right to complain that I didn’t express myself more clearly and plainly.  I’ll try again. 

Essentially what I was trying to say vis a vis ideology is that I feel Occupy might not be challenging one of the most important ideological tendencies of the society that they aim to criticise and transform ,which I argue stems back to the concept of ‘negative liberty’.  Negative liberty may be defined as freedom to live without interference from other people and is contrasted with ‘positive liberty’ which may be defined as the freedom to take control of one’s life and realize one’s fundamental purposes without being inhibited by the social structure . Negative liberty is usually attributed to individual agents, while positive liberty is usually attributed to collectivities, or individuals considered primarily as members of collectivities.

To me  Occupy seems to prioritise individual, free uncoerced choice in accordance with its libertarian and anarchist roots.  I have social anarchist leanings myself so I don’t criticise Occupy out of hand because of this, however without a strong collectivism and idea of positive liberty I fear Occupy might be restricted in its political challenge and beset by internal problems such as discussed.

It is natural that Occupy protestors are on a learning curve; in fact we all are even if we don’t know it and I don’t mean to lecture and be patronising.  They certainly won’t agree with all well meaning outside criticism (such as found in this article and comments), however I hope that they will at least listen and truly consider dissenting views even if from ‘outside’ (should there really be an ‘outside’ in any case?).  Immunity from internal and external criticism would not be a healthy road to go down.

By gabby, on 14 December 2011 - 08:35 |

as a rape victim myself i would like to say that the worst thing is that people are still talking about it

you get raped over and over again as people argue over whether or not it was your fault

meanwhile peple do not actually want to talk to you because you remind them of the bad thing that happened and they dont want to take sides

and it goes on and on and on

the thing about the young homeless lassie who got raped in glasgow was that she was 6 months pregnant
she was refused accommodation by the city homeless unit
she was refused accommodation by the city homeless unit
she was refused accommodation by the city homeless unit

something which the media seems to refuse to discuss

i was homeless for a while in the city
i met many girls inthe unit
some of whom were prostituting themselves to earn a living to get by
some of whom had alcohol problems
some of whom had little energy to do much except drag themselves into the next day
some of whom had sores on their bodies and could not get the energy to go up to the hospital for treatment
some of whom would tear each other’s hair out if one of them looked at another’s boyfirend / stole a hairbrush / abused another’s generosity
some of whom would give you their last change / haribrush / boyfriend and go right out and steal another
some of whom would spend hours listening to each other’s stories and sympathise
soime of whom would like to have a laugh
some of whom did not seem to be able to find the right guy to settle
some of whom had been victims or violent rape
some of whom hated themselves
some of whom had little support from the family whether due to alcohol abuse or difference in political viewpoint or any other thing that happens to separate a child from the body of the family
some of whom knew at least one other girl who had been raped murdered in the city
some of whom would end up being raped murdered abused or abusive in the city

By Jerry Simon, on 14 December 2011 - 10:17 |

Just…. keep exploring! Listen to people’s expression of their FEELINGS, even/especially the ones you find it hard to listen to or sympathise with. Make it explicit that this movement stands for solidariity between people, respect, inclusiveness… love actually - but that what all that really implies is still emerging, and how to do it is still emerging, and will better emerge the more people create an atmosphere of trust. And somehow ALSO bearing in mind at the same time (without destroying the new tender growth) that the opposite also applies i.e. recognise that there may very well be those amongst you who are NOT what they seem, who are deceiving the rest as to their motives in being there. Will there be undercover agents of groups hostile to the aims or ethos of Occupiers amongst you? Yes, almost certainly, we should know that by now.

By Allen Jones, on 14 December 2011 - 12:57 |

Thanks for sharing. 
“So far I have only addressed the attacks in Glasgow and Cleveland, but there have been other reported rapes in the Occupy movement.  A known sex offender has been arrested for the rape of a 14-year-old girl at Occupy Dallas.  A woman was raped and robbed at Occupy Baltimore.  Occupy Baltimore distributed leaflets encouraging members not to report sexual assaults to the police but to report it to the group instead.  There have been accusations of sexual assaults at Zuccotti Park, and at Occupy Portland and Oakland.  These rapes are not unfortunate one-off incidents: they represent a systematic failure.”  
Systematic failure?  Yes, it’s the system that occupy is working to undo.  Occupy has no system. Also, the hyperlink that was supposed to reference the disavowal of responsibility for the woman’s rape in Cleveland, at the beginning of the piece, is a broken link.  Also, she fails to mention that occupy glasgow actually voluntarily dismantled their encampment in the wake of the rape, which is as much of a sign of the assumption of collective responsibility as anything.  The actual wording of the Occupy Baltimore “leaflet” is this:  “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.” In other words, the entire premise of her piece is dubious.  By now, it should be clear why the occupy movement is suspicious of the police.  
Any social worker will tell you that rapes within the homeless community are commonplace.  These people have no alternatives to making their way in the streets, where others who couldn’t make it in the system are awaiting them.  Some of these people are mentally ill, some are sex offenders, some are just vulnerable and destitute.  Ultimately, the streets of the US and of the UK are dangerous places, whether the street happens to be one in which there is an occupy encampment or not.   

By Ellie Mae O'Hagan, on 14 December 2011 - 15:21 |

Yet again, another criticism that just proves the point of the article.

‘Systematic failure?  Yes, it’s the system that occupy is working to undo.  Occupy has no system.’

By arguing that Occupy has no system, you are depicting it as a group of unconnected individuals who have no responsibility towards each other. That’s exactly Maeve’s point. You use the implicit rejection of state and distrust of hierarchy in Occupy to justify having no mechanism in place to care for one another. Frankly I see little difference between that and the views of an arch right-wing libertarian.

Occupy is supposed to be a living representation of an alternative - or at least that’s how I understood it. It’s not just a group of disassociated individuals camping; it’s a community: a better and more compassionate community. How on earth to rapes at occupy represent a systemic failure of society at large, and not of occupy itself? They don’t - and your failure to accept criticism is another failure.

Well done Maeve, you have exposed something important here. And well done telaversion - your response to this article is exactly the right one: not taking it personally, but as a cue for dialogue and improvement. That’s the sort of occupy we want.

By telaversion, on 14 December 2011 - 17:02 |

@ ellie .... there are “arch right-wing libertarian"s in the occupy movement & they have the same complaints as the arch left-wing libertarians but different notions of solutions ... However, the movement is interested in working towards solutions & as Lisa has pointed out it is 100% anout inclusion & IMO not about emphasising division smile ... it’s easy on the web to type the wrong word & give a misrepresentation of views, & easy to read comments as views, opinions or even core beliefs .... that is why we meet at occupations as we can read each other more honestly… However, on-line communications tend IMO to create tension and misunderstanding…. SOLIDARITY

By Allen Jones, on 14 December 2011 - 17:17 |

Please don’t presume to enlighten me about “what occupy is supposed to be.”  Rather, one should begin with saying what it obviously is; namely, a disruption to the existing order or system.  Yes, it gestures toward a more equitable one.  But I don’t think you can hold occupy as a movement responsible of the actions of a few rapist assholes.  The point that I was making is not only that the author mischaracterizes the response of Occupy as a whole to the rapes, but that Occupy is not a static organizational structure to which we could attribute some something like a “systematic failure”.  

Regarding your claim that Occupy has a system, can you explain that system to me?  Occupy is what Sartre calls a “fused group.”  It does not have any institutional framework, nor does it have any system.  It’s unity does not depend upon a reason or organizing principle that is outside of itself, except as a pure negation of the existing system of exploitation.  For this reason, the movement as a whole cannot be held responsible for those who act as individuals outside of the group, which is precisely what these rapists have done.  Yes, the movement is trying to articulate alternatives to the existing system, but that does not mean that it is itself a system.  

I would absolutely agree that Occupy has to try to develop mechanisms for dealing with this, but there is no evidence of any systematic effort or conspiracy to marginalize this concern.  

By Justin B, on 14 December 2011 - 17:51 |

Excellent piece with patiently constructed arguments.

By Mhairi Mcalpine, on 27 December 2011 - 18:26 |

Excellent article.  Very glad I found it.  

There is something seriously wrong with the Occupy movement.  I don’t disagree with you that it needs an injection of feminist politics, but beyond that, the whole philosophy behind it troubles me. I’m writing from a UK perspective, and it would seem that the US experience is marginally better but…
1.  There is an arrogance of speaking for the 99%, especially given how prominent straight white males are within the movement.  This is the demographic which makes up the majority of the “1%”.  So what we have is a movement dedicated to challenge the economic power which is disproportionately vested in straight white males, with straight white males at the forefront. 

2.  The movement is a dictatorship of the committed.  Not everyone can sleep out in parks or public squares, not everyone can make regular meetings which meander with flexible agendas, no time limits on speakers and no deadlines.  Consequently those who are able to dedicate the most time have the most say in decisions, this is even brought out as a point of principle and a way of asserting authority.

3.  I fundamentally don’t understand the point.  I thought I’d got it - the “building the old society in the shell of the new” idea - creating alternative structures based on mutual co-operation and self-help as an alternative to either market, charity or state provided solutions, but actually I don’t see that happening at all.  There doesnt seem to be a whole lot of “building” going on.

4. With the exception of OccupyLSX, in the UK it appears insular - it is not well linked in to existing activists, groups and fellow travellers.  Indeed it appears dreadfully dismissive of them.

5. The conspiraloonacy which surrounds Occupy is dreadfully troubling.  Racist and anti-semitic material is found at almost all Occupy sites, explicitly linked into the movement.  I find it deeply troubling, and I worry that no-one is taking people spreading it to task.

6.  When sexism or racism is raised, rather than listening carefully, the straight white males of the movement have a tendancy to dismiss.  This isnt something unique to Occupy, lord knows it happens in all activist groups, but the GA decision making structure and its informality makes it hard for marginalised voices to be heard.  On the face of it, its perfectly democratic - anyone can speak on anything for as long as they like.  In practice raising these kinds of issues in a large group of non-marginalised people is bloody difficult - given that you are only raising sexism/racism *because* there is a tolerence of it and others dont see it as a problem.

I think your conciousness raising idea is a good one, but the whole nature, philosophy and aims of Occupy need clarified.

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