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October 19, 2011

Occupy Baltimore pamphlet on sexual assault causes alarm

The Occupy Baltimore movement is trying to become its own community, complete with its own rules, committees and general assembly. But a pamphlet advising how victims of sexual assaults should handle alleged crimes has gotten rape counselors concerned.

The pamphlet instructs victims to report to the "security committee" and advises that the group would prefer to mediate issues internally. One paragraph reads:

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 law enforcement.

A spokeswoman and the author of the memo -- herself a victim of a sexual assault -- say the directive in no way discourages victims from contacting police. But heads of advocate groups, such as Jacqueline Robarge of Power Inside, complained the tone says different.

"It might actually passively prevent someone from seeking justice," Robarge said.

The pamphlet came to our attention from a blogger posting on Andrew Breitbart's big government web site. The memo's author told me she only wanted to make sure victims knew they had an alternative to calling police.

Trouble is that victims of sexual assault already can get help at places such as Mercy Medical Center, and not involve police. Nurses there will preserve files and physical evidence for up to a year in case the victim changes her mind.

Here is the pamphlet in full:

As the Security Committee of Occupy Baltimore, we release this statement to ensure the safety of our newly forming, delicate yet strong community.

Sexual abuse and assault are dehumanizing acts for the survivor as well as the abuser.  It strips people of their right to safety, dignity, and respect.  All of these basic values embody many of the intentions behind Occupy Baltimore.  As a vibrant community, we recognize and give power to these values and the rights of survivors.

Sexual abuse or assault at Occupy Baltimore is in violation of our values, and will not be tolerated. It is an explicit policy of Occupy Baltimore to prohibit abuse by any member of the community upon another person. Violation of this policy will result in the abuser no longer being welcome at Occupy Baltimore.

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 law enforcement.

Reporting Procedure Any member of the Occupy Baltimore community who believes he/she/they have been the victim, or if you are aware of, or suspect sexual abuse taking place, are encouraged to immediately report the incident to the Security Committee.

Point person for dealing with these situations will be Koala Largess. ... Survivors of Sexual Abuse will be given the support, resources, and assistance needed for their emotional and physical health.


The Occupy Baltimore prohibits retaliation against any member, survivor, or outside person who reports in good faith a complaint of an abuser or who participates in any related inquiries. False accusations of sexual abuse in bad faith can have serious consequences for those who are wrongly accused.

Occupy Baltimore prohibits making false and/or malicious sexual abuse allegations, as well as providing false information during an inquiry. Anyone who violates any part of this policy will not be welcome at Occupy Baltimore.

Investigation and Follow-Up

Occupy Baltimore's Security Committee will make every reasonable effort to keep the matters involved in the allegation as confidential as possible while still allowing for a prompt and thorough inquiry. All allegations of abuse will be treated seriously and will be promptly and thoroughly investigated.

If the survivor wishes to involve law enforcement, in order to obtain physical evidence of the assault, you must report the incident immediately within 72 hours of the assault as collection and preservation of evidence is critical.

Occupy Baltimore will also work to supply the abuser with counseling resources to deal with their issues. The Occupy Baltimore Community has a Zero-Tolerance policy for any sexual physical or mental abuse of or by a community member or other person."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:23 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Downtown


I have been to the Occupy site many times throughout the past two weeks and have found that the supportive nature of the community does not, as you suggest in this misleading blog, replace their support of reporting abuse to law enforcement. I think it is commendable that Occupy Baltimore has addressed this concern in a supportive way in a pamphlet addressing everyone visiting or living on site as to the behavior expected. Do you live in a community that speaks up about violence against women publically? I see this as a piece of writing that validates women's experience in society, and that is something greatly needed.

Breitbart is your source? Did you actually do any investigative journalism, or did you rely on his sleaze and lies? Shame on you.

Just call The Police. If you are sexually physically or mentally abused. Laws still apply to every person in the U.S. Just Because Your protesting Doesn't mean laws don't apply to you. Call the Police. They are sworn in to protect the people. Not protect the people unless there are protesting. lol.

Mea, please read the blog and the story that ran in today's paper. Breitbart is not the source; the site gets credit for being the first to post the memo for a wider audience. As you can see in the stories, we verified the memo is real through a movement spokeswoman and talked with the author.

Last week there were 80 4th and 5th graders from Southwest Baltimore Charter School at Occupy Baltimore practicing direct democracy. It's too bad the Sun didn't send a reporter down to cover that amazing morning (which they got a press release about), but instead would rather misconstrue certain fractions of the drafted Occupy Baltimore sexual harassment document, while citing a blogger as the be critic yet. First of all, read the whole document and you'll get a very different take, namely that Occupy Baltimore in no way dissuades individuals from contacting the police in the instance of sexual harassment, and that Occupy Baltimore additionally encourages individuals to autonomously work out issues amongst the Occupying population that participates in nightly General Assemblies in which issues of concern can be brought up and decisions can be made to address such concerns. That's VERY different than saying "Occupy Baltimore says don't call the cops if you get raped."

We provided the document in full to women's advocates to get their thoughts. Then, we printed those responses. The Sun has also sent various reporters to Occupy Baltimore for various stories, including a front page piece in Wednesday's paper.

One question to consider is whether or not the women's advocates that you contacted are familiar with the particularly radical perspective that the document's authors were writing from. I think we can all agree that diverse groups often have a diverse array of tactics for dealing with similar issues. Simply because one refers to oneself and is recognized as a "women's advocate" does not mean that advocacy starts and stops with their approach.

And to the point of the Sun's relationship to Occupy Baltimore and the nature of its coverage, it should also be noted that the member of the security committee interviewed for the article specifically asked not to be identified by their full legal name. Though the Sun's editors intended to ignore that request, they inadvertently honored it by printing an incorrect first name.

As a female Baltimorean and a person who supports the general Occupy cause, I have to say that this memo makes me deeply ashamed of both my city and the organizers of this particular occupation. I have spent a little time at the demonstration site, but like some others, have been disappointed by certain elements of threats of violence or hostility towards police that are totally unnecessary. Unlike in other cities, the police in Baltimore have done little to nothing to disturb the Occupation. Indeed, while this area (or any area of downtown Baltimore) is not particularly a safe place to dwell overnight, police have made some efforts to look out for the occupants and keep an eye out for their safety.

This is not Melbourne -- nobody is getting their heads busted. So why this unnecessary, pre-emptive judgment of the police?

Now, I will also say that the BPD does not have the greatest history of integrity and ethics when it comes to processing rape cases. That having been said, this memo appears to acknowledge that sexual assault has already been a problem at the site. This is NOT something that Occupy organizers should be attempting to cover up. If the community is harboring and protecting sexual assaulters or rapists, they need to be responsible for working with the appropriate authorities to remove these people from the premises.

Do the individuals that circulated this memo have a full-time, certified counselor specializing in sexual assault cases on call at all hours? Have they identified a hospital that will accept community victims for rape kit testing? Do they have the financial and physical ability to transport victims to that hospital and pay for any costs incurred? Do they have a security force in place with the ability to remove rapists and/or assaulters without police assistance? If not, then they have no business telling any woman to turn to them as the authority, before any other entity. And to the best of my knowledge, for all that OccupyBaltimore has accomplished, they do not have any of these safeguards in place.

Any cause that attempts to silence victims of sexual violence in any way has ceded its legitimacy. As a feminist and a survivor, I can no longer support Occupy Baltimore until this memo is recanted by the particular individuals that distributed it. (I do NOT believe this memo was approved by total Occupy community consensus, which would render it illegitimate in any case.)

You said that "Last week there were 80 4th and 5th graders from Southwest Baltimore Charter School at Occupy Baltimore practicing direct democracy." Do you honestly believe that those 80 4th and 5th graders had any idea why they were their other then why their teacher told them they were there? Do you really believe that they have enough knowledge about government, the free market economy, socialism, public debt, and all of the other reasons these rally's are supposedly good or bad? No this is a teachers / schools influence on the political and social views of these children.

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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