Published November 09, 2011
A rash of reports of sexual assaults at Occupy Wall Street protests across the country has both police and activists raising red flags.
Nearly a half-dozen assaults have been reported at Occupy camps, including three at the New York City protests, which have prompted protesters to set up a “women only” tent in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park to provide a safe haven.
“The concern would be the rapes and attacks that aren’t reported,” said Sgt. Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, a police union in New York City. “We have no way of really knowing. If you have three or five crimes reported, you really don’t know if it’s eight or 10 that happened.”
He also noted how young many of the protesters are.
"They are in the lion’s den, so it’s not surprising that they are more susceptible to crimes,” he said.
The first reported incident occurred on Oct. 8, when a man was accused of sexually abusing a woman who was in a sleeping bag at Zuccotti Park. The victim did not report the incident until a few days later, when she saw the suspect, David Park, 27, at the protest site again.
Park, a Connecticut resident, had been arrested for disorderly conduct at a previous march, and he had numerous warrants out for him in both New York and his home state before the protests began.
Another incident was reported last week when a Brooklyn man, Tonye Iketubosin, 26, was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in her tent at Zuccotti Park on Oct. 25.
Iketubosin, a volunteer at the Occupy Wall Street “kitchen,” was questioned about the alleged rape of a second woman on Oct. 29.
Reports of sexual abuse also surfaced in Dallas, where a 23-year-old man was accused of having sex with a 14-year-old runaway girl, and in Cleveland, where cops opened an investigation of a sexual assault that allegedly occurred on Oct. 15.
Organizers for Occupy Wall Street did not return messages seeking comment, but they released a lengthy statement addressed to the participants.
“As individuals and as a community, we have the responsibility and the opportunity to create an alternative to this culture of violence,” the statement reads. “We are working for an OWS and a world in which survivors are respected and supported unconditionally… We are redoubling our efforts to raise awareness about sexual violence. This includes taking preventative measures such as encouraging healthy relationship dynamics and consent practices that can help to limit harm.”
The incidents of sex crimes, reports of petty theft, assaults and general outbursts of violence have sprung up not only around Wall Street, but in Occupy camps across the country.
And many of the protesters have become more aggressive overall in recent days.
The most serious incident was reported in downtown Portland last night -- cops responded to calls of a Molotov cocktail being set off near the city's World Trade Center. Authorities had received unconfirmed information a week earlier that people within the Occupy Portland encampment were constructing the crudely made bomb, which is normally fashioned from a glass bottle filled with gas and a soaked rag or cloth sticking out of the opening as a wick.
At the site of the Occupy San Diego camp, street cart vendors were forced to close up shop Monday when protesters, angry that they stopped receiving free food, ransacked and vandalized the carts.
The angry mob not only scrawled graffiti on the carts, they reportedly splattered them with blood and urine as well.
In addition, the vendors received death threats, according to local radio station KNX 1070.
Last weekend, a man was walking through Zuccotti Park taking pictures of the Occupiers' camp when an unidentified man approached him and struck him in the face, leaving his victim with a laceration to the face, according to law enforcement reports.
Also in lower Manhattan, a business owner made claims that she has been terrorized and her well-being threatened by Occupiers after she prohibited them from using her store's restroom to bathe.
Stacey Tzortzatos, owner of Panini and Co., located across from Zuccotti Park, got fed up two weeks ago when demonstrators broke a bathroom sink causing flooding in the shop and leaving her with a bill of $3,000 in damages, according to the New York Post.
In Boston, homeless protesters were removed from Dewey Square after they were discovered to have knives and stashes of illegal drugs.
“Paralysis is occurring across law enforcement. It’s becoming a Catch 22,” Mullins said. Referring to the protests in New York, he said, “To go in there to clear the park is going to cause confrontation. To not do so is detrimental.”