Two weeks ago, a young woman at #OccupyWallStreet was raped in her tent. He was out on bail from another rape–and had been accused of assaulting another woman in the park.
Her rape was not the first. Another woman was raped in her tent at #OccupyCleveland–and was accused of being a spy from the government to make #OccupyWallStreet look unsafe. One woman was sexually assaulted and went to the police, only to be promptly dismissed with, “That’s what you get for sleeping away from home.” Needless to say, he did not pursue her assault.
In response to the rape at #OccupyWallStreet–which of course, is the one that is getting any press whatsoever–several women at Occupy Wall Street have united with Code Pink to make a women’s only “safe space” tent–a place where women can sleep without fear or risk of male intrusion and sexual assault.
Although the tent is durable and strong–a militaristic greenish gray, decorated with slogans like “we are strong women” and “strong women occupying wall street,” to me, it is an upsetting symbol of the feminine presence at #OccupyWallStreet. It is a crisis response–something that had to be erected because of the harsh realization that Liberty Plaza, a place that is supposed to be a beautiful symbol of the world that we wish to occupy (a world that is not only free of capitalism and corporate greed, but free of the systems of patriarchy, violence, racism, and discrimination that our current economic system institutionalizes) is not a safe space. Though the well meaning white people in the movement have claimed–and been criticized–for purporting that the movement is free from the race, gender, and class lines that once divided us, it has been made clear that these have not only shaped our pasts, but severely occupy our present.
The reality is, women are raped. This woman was raped, and she wasn’t the first and she will not be the last. The reality is, we are not in a social place where we can occupy a space equally without being preoccupied by concern for our safety.
The tent was erected the week following the rape. Though many people were supportive of the tent, and applauded the women who built it, plenty undermined its significance. In the park, some men grumbled that women claim that sexual assault is rape and overreacted to the situation. On the Internet, many commented articles about the safe space and the sexual assault problem with asinine comments like, “rapists are in the ninety-nine percent too.”
Here is the thing.
#OccupyWallStreet is a movement for economic justice. Unlike an ordinary protest–something where we have a protest permit, signs, and stand with megaphones on a street corner or in a public square for two hours–we have vowed to literally occupy the space until substantial change occurs in our system. There are no permits, as there is no respect for the traditional order that has governed and broken our system. Instead, there is a new system–something that has been built upon consensus, and now–due to the sheer size of the movement–is experiencing its own trials and evolution in political organization. At the root of this new system–no matter what the internal strife in operations–is the desire to model a society based on what we want to live in.
In this society, I don’t want to have to sleep in a tent away from everyone–a glaring symbol of my inequality and vulnerability. I don’t want to be segregated by my gender, because my gender is occupied by a certain set of issues and concerns.
As long as we are imagining idealism, and fearlessly advancing radical ideas, shouldn’t we be discussing a world without sexual violence? It is a necessary temporary fix to have a women’s only “safe space” in Liberty Plaza–but activism, and discussions around rape culture, rape accountability, and sexual violence should continue and be an integral part of a radical liberation movement. Ending the fight against sexual violence with a women’s only safe space effectively bails out rape culture–due to our broken justice system, and our propensity to easy fixes rather than discussions around systemic change, rape and sexual violence is not only ignored, but effectively enabled.
We need the same discussions around systemic roots, accountability, and collective justice surrounding sexual violence that we are building around corporate greed and financial terrorism (not to mention complete and utter disillusionment with our justice system). As long as we are exercising the radical imagination to reclaim our political, economic, and social system from the forces that have constricted and bound us in an eternal cycle of inequality, why claim ourselves a culture without sexual violence and educate and organize around #OccupyRapeCulture?