Michelle Quist: Keys on the scale of sexual violence

Prosecuting attorney Spencer Walsh, left, asks a question to Torrey Green during Green's rape trial, Tuesday, Jan.15, 2019 in Brigham City, Utah. Green is accused of raping multiple women while he was a football player at Utah State University. (Eli Lucero/Herald Journal via AP)

Last week a Utah legislator quietly shopped an idea to lower penalties for child porn possession. Some Utah prosecutors and defense attorneys, and even the Utah Sentencing Commission, supported the change, mostly because sex offenders now comprise 34 percent of the population of the Utah State Prison.

We’ve been working to empty our prisons from drug addicts in favor of helping them seek treatment, and now our prisons are filled with sex offenders, who we apparently don’t deem as worthy of such treatment efforts. There’s a point there, of course, that addicts need help.

There’s also the problem of our teenage children, who are sexting pictures of themselves to friends, and then getting caught with the images on their phones. One to 15 years in prison is a hard lesson to learn at 18.

But appropriately, the legislator quickly realized that his bill was “too big a shift.”

To say the least.

Current law assigns the same penalties for users and producers, which seems skewed. But the answer is not to reduce penalties for users; the answer is to increase penalties for producers.

We won’t ever be ready to excuse the use of child porn as we are of heroin. Drug use is mostly a victimless crime — the perpetrators hurt themselves. Child pornography is not — some child had to be used and abused in order to get the image that the user is now looking at.

In other words, users are not just innocent bystanders of the monster called addiction. They’re supplying the demand, and we need to stop that demand.

Just a quick review of our headlines over the past few weeks illustrates why.

The trial of Torrey Green started last week with six women testifying that the former Utah State University football player sexually assaulted them. On the witness stand, he responded that he “wish[ed he] didn’t break their hearts.” The one time he was emotional was when he was talking about his ruined NFL career.

A separate Utah State student was recently sentenced to six months in jail after pleading guilty to forcible sexual abuse. He was charged with rape, but was sentenced to a lesser charge with the victim’s consent, likely because she didn’t want to testify and wanted the whole ordeal to be over.

A Tooele man was recently arrested for attempted kidnapping and rape when he allegedly abducted a woman and held her in his house. This man was arrested a few years ago on similar charges, which were dropped. He was also arrested on a separate rape charge that same year, which was also dismissed.

And then of course there’s the tragic, fatal story of Lauren McCluskey, and the myriad of ways the system, especially the University of Utah police, failed her. Lauren was shot by a spurned lover after weeks of harassment, extortion and stalking, that she reported to police.

I realize I’m conflating issues here — child pornography, sexual abuse, domestic violence, murder. But aren’t they all just keys on the scale of sexual violence?

They all wreak havoc on the safety and well being of women. And men.

And at the very bottom of this scale is the surprising upset and backlash over a Gillette ad meant to challenge “toxic masculinity” that encourages men to teach their boys to respect women and reject bullying and violence.

Because not all men are angry, violent jerks.

In response to the ad, some men are throwing their Gillette razors into the toilet. It’s apt that they will then need to reach their hands into that toilet or face a plumbing nightmare.

So what can we do to stop the sexual violence so often ignored, downgraded, or even justified?

Elizabeth Smart is a good start. We can do what Elizabeth Smart does.

In response to the escape of Jayme Closs, a young girl who had been kidnapped three months ago in Wisconsin, Smart spoke out that her escape was a miracle. Smart told Jayme she was “a brave, strong, and powerful survivor!”

And that should always be the first message to victims and those who are hurting. You are a survivor. You did nothing wrong. You will get through this.

Our second message needs to be that we will all work harder to ensure there are more survivors, and fewer victims.

Michelle Quist

Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.