Software, hardware, wetware

Occupy Melbourne, Tents and Sexual Assault

After a brief twitter exchange, I feel moved to comment on this blog post.

Before we start: My goal here is to have a reasonable discourse and I hope that you’ll read on in that spirit.  I am white and male and fairly privileged, and I try not to let that colour my opinion too much. I also try to be a man of science and reason, and I definitely let that colour my opinion as much as I can. I am not out to besmirch anyone, I don’t hate women, I don’t hate police, I don’t hate anyone (in fact I love most people) and if I go on to offend you, it was probably accidental. Unless you deserved it.

(Because Twitter is a terrible medium for having srs conversashuns)

Background (As I Understand It - Please Correct Me If I’m Wrong)

Some #occupymelbourne protesters were camping in Flagstaff Gardens, and to try and skirt bylaws prohibiting structures (which apparently include tents), they gussied the tents up as outfits. Which I think is commendably clever, but apparently not enough to satisfy the legal beagles.

The police raided Flagstaff, and according to their account gave plenty of warning that tents - whether or not they be worn as clothing - were considered structures for the purposes of certain council by-laws (which largely exist to enforce health and sanitation standards) and would need to go. Again according the police account, protesters were given warning over a number of days.

When the fuzz showed (according to reports) several of the protesters moved along, but one particular protester chose not to budge. The young lady in question was apparently not wearing clothing under the tent. Again according to police reports, she was offered some time to clothe herself. She apparently did not or could not do so. She was (apparently) again warned, and when she refused to comply, had the tent forcibly removed from her person (in a most distressing manner).

Key Points (As I See Them)

  1. Most importantly: Using knives to cut something off a young female protester seems extremely heavy-handed and ill-advised (or, worse, unethical and illegal). I hope that investigations related to the subsequently levelled at the police will bring to light the exact circumstances around this case and that any wrong-doing will be appropriately addressed. However: I was not there, and for most people reading this - neither were you.

  2. I have yet to see comment from anyone who was actually there for the whole series of events. A lot of the commentary I’m seeing on Twitter and blogs seems at best second hand and at worst complete hearsay. People: you don’t get to just pull an opinion out of a hat and argue it vociferously as if it were fact based on something you didn’t witness in full yourself. That’s what the bloody religious right do. We need to establish facts and then discuss those - calmly and rationally. I’m not seeing a lot of facts. Or a lot of rationality.

  3. Think it through. Many of these laws exist for a reason. It’s not because “The Man” is out to get you. Most of the people who made those laws are people very similar to yourselves. Sometimes the laws are fundamentally flawed and should be opposed. I do not believe “no tents in Flagstaff Gardens” qualifies as such a law. We have bigger battles to fight.

  4. In my mind, pitching a tent for days/weeks on end isn’t “peaceably assembling”. It’s camping, which brings with it issues of health and sanitation that need to be addressed.

  5. You can’t just pitch a tent anywhere you want to in Australia. This is (and I hesitate to use the term, but here goes) common knowledge. You can camp in designated camping grounds. This is a sanitation requirement and to me, seems reasonably okay as laws go. Crash on a mate’s couch, come back in the morning! (Right?)

  6. Individuals were (apparently) warned, repeatedly, over the course of several days, that the tents (as the colloquialism goes) would not fly. If this is the case - precisely what was their expectation, and what skill did they display in working around these by-laws?

  7. I’m a little confused as to comments about “institutionalised sexism and misogyny” in regards to this event given that there were male and female officers and council workers present. Having met some female police officers, I would challenge you to call them sexist or misogynist to their faces. In my experience they are not. YMMV, but it seems like a sweeping generalisation with little basis in fact.

  8. Camping out doesn’t seem the most effective way to protest, to me. The point of a protest is to get public mindshare, and to do that you get in people’s faces. Personal experience tells me that at 11pm-6am on a Tuesday/Wednesday is a pretty dead time in Flagstaff Gardens and does not accomplish the goals of protesting.

  9. Comments on the Internet are fucking terrible things. Rational people can and should choose to ignore them liberally, because John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory still holds true (and probably always will). Picking and choosing from Internet comments and comments from spokespeople seems slightly disingenous and non-productive (“assholes gunna asshole”).

  10. The police officers and council workers involved thus far seem entirely silent (and will probably remain so given that an investigation is pending). I’m hesitant to base any opinion on just one side of the story, no matter who they are or how well intentioned. (This seems like a rational response to me?)

I’ve deliberately avoided commenting on #occupymelbourne in general and tried to confine my post to this specific event which - again - I was not there for, and except in a notable few cases, neither were you.

To sum up my position: the video is harrowing and the situation seems like a nasty one, and it’s quite possible that a young lady was wronged. It’s also quite possible that she was complicit in the events that transpired by her refusal to obey some fairly reasonable requests. The situation is far more complex and subtle than pundits are giving credit and jumping on the “OMG SEXUAL ASSAULT” bandwagon seems (to me) unreasonable and ill-advised.