Sexual harassment occurs at the Utah Legislature. How do I know this? I know this because sexual harassment occurs everywhere.
The #MeToo movement, which started on social media as a way to support women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault, is still agitating political, entertainment, workplace and government circles. Those who find themselves tired of the movement attempt to minimize instances of harassment, especially when compared with harrowing accounts of sexual assault.
But men, and women, are learning that treating others with such profane disrespect is unacceptable. And women, and men, are pushing back against such harassment.
The pre-#MeToo world allowed a decadelong backlog of rape DNA kits. A woman would have the courage to submit herself to the humiliation of being prodded and scraped, right after she was raped, in order to find and convict the person who raped her.
Law enforcement, though, would not want to spend precious resources to actually test the kit. Rape kits sat on a shelf because rape wasn’t as important as small-time marijuana dealers.
Now, in the post-#MeToo world, the state has miraculously found federal money to launch a new tracking system to help victims receive the status of their kits.
Granted, the increased focus on testing old rape kits started well before the #MeToo movement. Indeed, the Legislature passed a law last year that requires every rape kit be tested at the state’s crime lab.
But the movement has freed up more funds and has helped ensure this effort doesn’t get left behind.
The pre-#MeToo world included more than just stranded rape kits on lonely police warehouse shelves. In the pre-#MeToo world, Utah County police hired a man who had been accused, as a cop in the ’80s, of sexual abuse of at least two children. Gerald Salcido, who was recently arrested, worked for Utah County for 14 years.
In the post-#MeToo world, perhaps there is reason for police departments across the state to take accusations of sexual misconduct in a potential hire’s background a little more seriously.
Utah’s courts are on board with a more-evolved post-#MeToo world. The Utah Court of Appeals recently upheld an object rape conviction against a man who raped a woman sleeping on his couch after she said, “unh-unh,” especially in light of her other nonverbal cues. In other words, no means no.
Which brings me to the Legislature.
Last week The Tribune wrote an editorial about sexual harassment in the Legislature and highlighted an article that reported at least two instances of harassment in the past 10 years.
The editorial used the term “skintern” as an example of the atmosphere of harassment evident at the Legislature. A few legislators, former legislators, former lobbyists and political hobbyists responded that they had never heard the term, much less heard its usage in Utah’s capitol. Not in the sacred halls of Utah’s Capitol!
The term refers to interns, usually women, who dress in a way that shows skin. Like, for example, a sleeveless blouse.
The nerve of a woman who would make such a wardrobe choice.
Let me be clear. People are using the term in Utah. The first rule of fight club is to not talk about fight club. Who would ever admit to using such a term?
The fact that lobbyists (from what I’ve heard) are using the term in a sort of sessionlong game as to who can choose the intern who will show the most skin by the end of the session is part of the harassment endemic in legislatures across the country. Utah is not immune. And the sooner legislators admit that fact, the sooner we can move forward into a post-#MeToo, enlightened existence here in Utah.
I hope interns during this session have the boldness to demand better treatment, if they hear someone talking about them or a fellow intern. I hope legislators are careful to not make jokes based on gender. I hope party leadership grills staff and other legislators that there will be no second chances when it comes to sexual harassment.
Victim Kyle Stephens said it best when she told Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics doctor-turned-serial-abuser, “Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”
Thankfully, that is the post-#MeToo world we now live in.
Michelle Quist is an editorial writer for the Salt Lake Tribune who is anxious for the post-#MeToo world to set in.