A small group of activists on Friday stood silent along a busy Salt Lake City street, duct tape covering their mouths. Red rope tied their hands. Some had tears in their eyes as they held signs scrawled with sobering statistics of how frequent sexual abuse happens in Utah.
They were protesting, they said, against Salt City Tattoo, whose owner earlier this week posted a photo of a white elephant gift one of his employee’s brought to a company party: a “rape kit” that included duct tape, rope, a knife, leather gloves and a bottle of lubricant.
“Dakota made a rape kit for white elephant,” owner David “Day” May wrote, punctuated by three laughing face emojis.
For protest co-organizer Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro, the image was offensive — but not all that surprising.
“I’m kind of used to rape culture,” she said Friday. “It’s everywhere. I wish I could say I was shocked. I wasn’t.”
The woman was one of about a dozen activists who gathered Friday in front of the tattoo parlor, located at 353 E. 200 South.
Though the shop’s owner publicly apologized in an Instagram post, Lesley Ann Shaw said that wasn’t enough. Shaw — who identifies as non-binary transgender and prefers the pronouns “they” and “them” — said a public call-out was still needed to cause real action.
“This is how [rape culture] becomes normalized,” they said. “This was a work party, and not one person shut that down that night. The fact that there were even bystanders who didn’t do anything about it really just shows how normalized this conversation is.”
May on Thursday followed his original post with an apology, writing that there was “no excuse” for posting the photo, and said the employee who brought the gift to the work party had been fired. He also asked people to post any suggestions of what he could do to make it right.
The activists on Friday hoped to deliver a letter with a list of suggestions to the tattoo shop’s owner — including sensitivity training, adopting a zero-tolerance policy for rape culture, and volunteering to help survivors of sexual abuse. But no one ever came to open the business and the doors were locked.
Shaw said they had called the shop the day before, as well, to offer suggestions — but no one ever answered.
“Very disappointing,” they said.
No one answered the shop’s phone on Friday, and a Tribune request for comment emailed to May went unanswered.
The activists ended their protest by removing the duct tape from their mouths, and using it to tape copies of the letter and their signs to the shop’s door. Their red ropes were left draped on the door handles.
Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said Friday that while the photo was likely just a “foolish example of dark humor,” it shows that the community needs to have deeper conversations about societal norms and values that lead to the acceptance of harmful joking.
“We can’t escape accountability,” he said. “We all have to be present for that. One of my reactions to this situation is, it’s absolutely ridiculous that it happened, [but] I have seen this in my own life. We see it all the time. It’s important that we understand this scenario isn’t isolated.”