Efforts by the Occupy Baltimore protest group to evolve into a self-contained, self-governing community have erupted into controversy with the distribution of a pamphlet that victim advocates and health workers fear discourages victims of sexual assaults from contacting police.So they don't want police involved, huh? I bet if some tea partiers came along to poke fun at them they'd overload the police switchboard in record time.
The pamphlet says that members of the protest group who believe they are victims or who suspect sexual abuse "are encouraged to immediately report the incident to the Security Committee," which will investigate and "supply the abuser with counseling resources."
The directive also says, in part, "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."
Despite this caveat, the heads of three rape crisis centers and a nurse who runs the forensic division at Mercy Medical Center called the message about not involving police dangerous. They said it contains erroneous information that could undermine efforts to convince victims to properly report crimes and get the counseling they need.
"It might actually passively prevent someone from seeking justice," said Jacqueline Robarge, the executive director of Power Inside, a nonprofit support group that helps women who have been victimized.
The hodgepodge of anti-establishment activists who have erected a tent city at the Inner Harbor as part of the broader Occupy Wall Street movement are trying to develop their own rules of conduct, developed through committees and approved by a general assembly.
"I understand that they want to transform themselves," Robarge said. "But they have to do that in the context of our culture and community. … We're talking about people's lives here."
The "security statement" appears to be one of several attempts to govern what the memo calls "our newly forming, delicate yet strong community."
A spokeswoman, Jessica Lewis, a 31-year-old publicist, said the statement "in no way discourages people to contact the police." But she said Occupy Baltimore, now entering its third week, is "trying to be a self-contained community and deal with conflicts internally as much as possible."
Police in Cleveland said a 19-year-old woman was raped at an Occupy protest there, and authorities in Oakland and in Seattle have reported sexual assaults and incidents of indecent exposure.
Lewis said there have been no reports of sexual assaults or rapes at the Baltimore protest site. But she said that members of the "security committee" have mediated several disputes involving allegations of sexual harassment.
Related thoughts on the epidemic of "Occupier" lunacy here.