Like the UC-Davis pepper spraying or the 84-year-old woman pepper sprayed at a Seattle protest, the story of 19-year-old Jennifer Fox seemed destined to be yet another horrifying example of police brutality against nonviolent protesters. Photographs and video footage make it indisputable that Fox was injured at the protest when police pepper sprayed her until her eyes swelled shut. But Fox also claimed that cops kicked her in the stomach, and in doing so caused a miscarriage of her 3-month pregnancy. Sympathy poured out from all corners of the Internet for Fox, who is also homeless and says she’s been relying on the Occupy protests for food and shelter. A homeless pregnant woman attacked by police for protesting economic injustice who then loses her pregnancy? If billionaire Michael Bloomberg is the perfect Occupy villain, Fox is really the perfect Occupy victim.
Unfortunately, while there’s no doubt that Fox was injured with pepper spray, there are now doubts being raised about her miscarriage. Dominic Holden at the Stranger has had no luck in verifying Fox’s story that she visited the hospital in the days after the police attack because of cramps, only to discover that she had lost the pregnancy. Her descriptions of her pregnancy keep changing, and frankly, there’s something a bit off about her reaction to an early-term miscarriage. (I’ve never heard of a candlelight vigil and a memorial service for a 3-month-old fetus, even amongst rabid fetus-worshipping anti-abortionists.) She’s refused any attempt to clarify exactly what happened, and there’s reports that her family believes she plays fast and loose with the truth. Now the police are investigating what happened, and I’m guessing they’re not going to be quiet about it if it turns out Fox is lying.
If she is indeed exaggerating the extent of her injuries to include a miscarriage, that’s a very serious problem. Stereotypes about the protesters as drama queens and stereotypes about women especially as being hysterical and deceitful will be in heavy play in the reaction to this. Just as the very rare false report of rape is used by rape apologists to cast doubt on the vast majority of truthful rape reports, we can expect the bad behavior of a single protester to be exploited in an attempt to discredit the entire movement. From a feminist perspective, this is also deeply distressing. Most women don’t lie about pregnancy or use pregnancy to manipulate people, but the rare occasions when it’s happened are often exploited by those who have an anti-woman agenda. These sorts of incidents say little about women as a group, and usually stem from the mental-health issues of the woman acting out. In all the political tug-of-war that’s erupting from this incident, the one thing that’s sadly sure to be lost is understanding that, one way or another, Fox seems like a woman in a distressing situation who is not getting the help that she needs.