Sexual Assaults Reported in 'Occupy' Camps

Reports of sex crimes spill out of "Occupy" tent cities.

ByABC News
November 3, 2011, 9:58 AM

Nov. 3, 2011— -- Alleged sexual assaults at Occupy Wall Street camps have raised concerns about security in a handful of cities, including reports of rape and groping in tents at New York's Zuccotti Park and a sex offender in Dallas having sex with an underage runaway.

"These protests have a history of welcoming everyone and just assuming they're on your side," said David Meyer, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Irvine, who studies protest movements.

The recent reports of assaults have created a problem the "Occupy" movement is being challenged to address head-on.

"We always encourage victims to go through the proper channels and contact police," said Brendan Burke, 41, who helps run the security team in Zuccotti Park.

But that's not always the case. Burke admitted there have been times when members of the community have taken it upon themselves to chase off men who exposed themselves in the park.

"If there is a consensus that someone is bothering another person, the community will take care of it," he said. "Still, we always notify victims to contact police."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- addressing the allegations of sexual assault today -- said the reported practice of chasing perpetrators, rather than reporting them to police, is "despicable." If the reports are true, he said, the protesters have made the city less safe.

Burke said the group is taking action to help prevent any future assaults, something that camps across the country have began to address.

Some of the measures being implemented in camps include a well-lit, female-only sleeping area and a night security watch, which numbers 15 people at any given time, Burke said.

This comes just as Tonye Iketubosin, 26, was arrested late Tuesday for allegedly sexually assaulting two women, both inside tents in New York City's Zuccotti Park.

The first alleged attack occurred Oct. 24 after Iketubosin helped a 17-year-old girl to set up her tent. After he refused to leave, he allegedly groped the girl.

The second alleged assault occurred Oct. 29 after an 18-year-old woman from Massachusetts agreed to let Iketubosin sleep in her tent. She said she awoke to find him pulling off her pants and that he proceeded to rape her.

The problem of women being hassled, or worse, isn't unique to New York City.

"There is nobody working the doors at these protests," professor Meyer said. "There has to be a set of social sanctions or norms, but that's the struggle with any movement."

Dallas police arrested a convicted sex offender for having sex with a 14-year-old runaway in the Occupy Dallas camp.

After police located the missing girl, she told them about her encounter with Richard Wayne Armstrong, 24.

"She gave us information she had sexual relations with a person. She could only a give nickname," said Cheryl Scott, deputy chief of the special investigations division.

Scott said the girl had told Armstrong and other occupiers that she was 19-years-old.

Armstrong is being held on felony charges of failure to register as a sex offender and sexual assault of a minor. The girl is in the custody of Child Protective Services, Scott said.

On Oct. 15, police responded to a delayed report of a sexual assault at Occupy Cleveland.

Detective Michael Kovach of the Cleveland Police Department declined to comment, citing the pending investigation. He did, however, tell that protesters at the camp have been particularly cooperative in all matters with police.

Reports of harassment and women made to feel uncomfortable are also popping up on Occupy Wall Street's message board.

"I had an encounter Friday evening with a man who might have been that same guy," said protester Athena Grey, who was responding to another woman's story of being harassed. "Burly guy, average height, wearing a long coat. Smelled of beer. He tried to hug me but I managed to keep him at arm's length," she said.

Burke said although the group has increased security measures, it is important that people remain vigilant.

"Just because this is a protest in a park doesn't mean you're immune to crime," he said. "People need to act as if it is any other day in their lives."