- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Authorities on Tuesday were investigating complaints of sexual assault and theft at the site of the 2-month-old Occupy D.C. protest, which has largely dodged crime complaints that have plagued similar Occupy camps across the country.

According to the Occupy D.C. website, a person living in the camp accused another Monday night of sexual assault and theft. U.S. Park Police officers immediately removed the accused person from the Northwest park.

A source close to the investigation said a 51-year-old man was taken into custody after another man made the complaint.

Park Police confirmed the arrest to the Associated Press but did not respond to calls for details Tuesday.

Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the District, said no charges had been filed as of Tuesday and that the investigation was continuing.

Asked for details of the incident, many protesters in the camp — which hosts about 100 people each night — said they had little information.

“There are a lot of different kinds of people here from all different backgrounds and temperaments,” said Tracy Keith, a member of Occupy D.C. “We still make it work, but unfortunately, as the organism grows, there are more and more differences. We don’t want needless escalation. If the police are required to be called, we’ll call them.”

Reports of sexual assaults have been filed in other Occupy camps across the country, including New York City’s Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy protests began in mid-September.

A woman reported this month that she had been raped in a tent at the Occupy Philadelphia camp, and sexual assault claims have been investigated in Seattle, Dallas, St. Louis and Cleveland.

Brittney Steer, a 20-year-old student who has been living with the demonstrators in McPherson Square since early October, said she stood “firm by the belief we are making the park safer.”

“I feel just as safe as in my locked apartment,” Ms. Steer said, adding that within the small group of women who live in the park “we have open and honest communication and dialogue.”

A D.C. police spokeswoman referred questions about Monday’s incident to Park Police.

A female organizer with Occupy D.C. who asked to be identified as “N.M.” said the movement is a learning process as much for protesters as it is for the surrounding community.

“We are trying to find our way to create a community that can welcome every individual,” the young woman said. “That’s difficult to understand for some.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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