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Sex assault arrest highlights security concerns at 'Occupy' protests

NEW YORK -- Highlighting growing security concerns at “Occupy” protests around the country, a 26-year-old man has been arrested and charged with sexual abuse of a woman at the encampment near Wall Street where the movement was born. 

Tonye Iketubosin, a Brooklyn resident, was arrested late Tuesday and remained in custody Wednesday while the incident was investigated, police said. He had been working in the encampment's kitchen.


The Wall Street Journal reported that police were investigating an alleged attack by Iketubosin on an 18-year-old woman from Massachusetts. The woman told police she accepted his offer to let her sleep in his tent while he went to work at the kitchen early Saturday, but later returned and raped her, the newspaper quoted an unidentified law enforcement official as saying. Charges were pending.

Iketubosin allegedly groped a 17-year-old woman days before that incident, on Oct. 24. He has been charged with third-degree sexual abuse in that case, the newspaper reported.

Brendan Burke, 41, of Brooklyn, who helped start the “Occupy Wall Street” security team, said there had been three or four assaults since the protest began on Sept. 17 committed by two men.

In such cases, he said, protesters “go straight to the police.”

Burke said the security team, which consists of up to ten members and has help from outside groups to help keep the site safe, has non-violent measures for handling aggressors, including encircling them and shouting them down. A community watch group, akin to neighborhood watch, also monitors the site overnight, he said.

“People forget this is the middle of the street,” Burke said. “All walks of life are in here, so it’s not like a bunch of crazy people are in this park. But there is an element in this park that is eating free food, living in tents and being subsidized by the movement. It’s one of the weak parts of the movement, but it’s changing. … It’s just a thing everyone’s working out as we go along.”

He said the protesters attempt to integrate such interlopers into the movement when possible.

“We have also a track record of including troubled kids into the fray of working groups …  and  becoming part of the movement,” he said.

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Security issues have bubbled up at some “Occupy” sites around the country in recent weeks.

“Occupy Boston” is looking at measures to deal with taking troublemakers out of the camp, protester Ravi Mishra, 25, said Tuesday. There have been no reports of sexual assault, though they have had to deal with people who are rowdy, drunk or have substance abuse problems, he said.

Some people who were not really a part of the movement have shown up and gotten “up to no good,” Mishra said.

“We’re doing our best to navigate, you know, both sides of the line,” he said. “On the one hand, we want to make sure that we’re not being exclusive by any means, on the other hand, we do understand that there is ... a degree of realism that we have to take with these issues.”

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“Occupy Dallas” also has had a few security issues arise with people coming to the camp who were not associated with the movement, protester Michael Prestonise wrote in an email.

“Our position is one that might run counter to the continued accusations of our movement primarily consisting of hippies and freeloaders,” he said. “We actively work with the police to enforce the law.” 

Prestonise said the protesters had dealt with theft by announcing stolen items at “general assemblies” and conducted their own investigations in some cases. A fire watch team also coordinates security and organizes shifts to maintain an all-night safety patrol, he said.

Both Occupy Boston and Wall Street have tents for women only. Burke said the camp is safe, but people should not think it’s a crime-free zone.

“There’s a myth about this … that it’s not every day America,” Burke said. “We’re just Americans doing our constitutional right. It doesn’t mean that there is a magic spell that will protect you from crime.”