Don't allow Utah colleges to co-opt the decisions of sexual violence victims

You cannot do this to sexual assault survivors.

You cannot take away the one shred of control they still possess. You cannot co-opt their decisions.

You cannot pass House Bill 254.

Sponsored by Rep. Kim Coleman, a West Jordan Republican, HB 254 allows Utah colleges and universities to report allegations of sexual violence to police — even if it’s against the victim’s wishes.

Title IX already allows schools some discretion in reporting crimes without the consent of the victim. Coleman’s bill expands that authority, essentially arguing that the safety of a college campus matters more than the trauma of an individual.

Experts say she’s wrong. Turner C. Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, calls HB 254 “a dangerous backslide in our efforts to support sexual assault survivors.”

Why? Because it rips control of decision-making from the victim — a person who’s just endured a violent attack — and gives it to an institution.

Rape is about control. It’s about power. And now Coleman wants to tell sexual assault victims on Utah college campuses they don’t even have the power to decide if they’ll talk to police.

Many victims already hesitate to report sexual violence because they’re afraid schools cannot guarantee confidentiality. Pass HB 254 and you’ll ensure even fewer assault victims come forward; you won’t improve campus safety, you’ll damage it because crimes will go unreported.

And, at the same time, you’ll inflict unimaginable suffering on victims.

“This bill threatens the crucial relationship between survivors and victim advocates by taking the decision to move forward away from survivors,” Bitton said in a news release announcing UCASA’s opposition to HB 254. “In the #MeToo moment, it is unconscionable to be subverting the wishes of survivors.”

Everyone agrees we should protect Utah college students from sexual assault, but traumatizing victims isn’t an effective or compassionate approach.

We need to listen to the experts. And the experts say HB 254 is a bad idea.

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New first of its kind mobile app in Utah aims to help victims of sexual assault

SALT LAKE CITY – There’s a new mobile app available for survivors of sexual assault who are trying to heal.

The Utah Coalition against sexual assault launched the “You Are a Survivor” mobile app. It’s the first of its kind in Utah.

“We want them to control this process. We want them to have resources at their fingertips, and determine if they want to move forward,” said Turner Bitton, UCASA, executive director.

By accessing the app, survivors can learn how to file a report, understand trauma, legal options, and victim’s rights.

“Trauma impacts us all very differently and very similarly,” said Bitton.

The app is also a resource for families and loved ones of survivors.

“Research suggests upwards of 90 percent of survivors go to a secondary survivor or a friend or family member before they ever go to an informal support based on how that response happens,” said Bitton.

Rep. Angela Romero (D-SLC) hopes the app will help victims speak out and become survivors. Romero works closely with peer health educators on the Planned Parenthood Association Utah’s Teen Council.

“It's never the survivor's fault,” said Sofia Garza, Peer Health Educators Planned Parenthood Assoc. Utah's Teen Council.

For those who are afraid to talk to adults, the app can put them more at ease.

“With this new app, we can start to understand where people are coming from more and start creating change,” said Thalia Barnett, Peer Health Educators Planned Parenthood Assoc. Utah’s Teen Council.

“Teens are very comfortable with their phones. Having something where they know where to go, who to talk to, they know what can be done is really helpful,” said Garza.

The You Are Survivor app is free. It’s available on the Apple Store, and Google Play Store.

To download the app, click here.

This piece first appeared on Fox 13. Click here to read the original article.

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Coalition announces launch of mobile app for sexual assault survivors

(KUTV) -- The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault announced Friday the launch of a new mobile application called "You Are A Survivor."

Support is offered through the new app to sexual assault survivors and their families with information, resources, and links to service providers.

It is available free of charge on the Apple Store and Google Play Store.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era in our efforts to serve sexual assault survivors across the state," stated Turner C. Bitton, Coalition executive director, in a press release. "This mobile application is the culmination of decades of innovation aimed at reducing the isolation that many survivors feel after an assault.”

The release outlined the app features which include:

• Resources for Survivors: reporting options, understanding trauma, legal options, and the rights of victims.

• Resources for Friends and Family: understanding what is happening, supporting your loved one, reporting options, and responding to child sexual abuse.

Subsequent updates and versions of the You Are A Survivor mobile application are planned, the release said.

Users may download the app at

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HB177: Utah Legislature looks to revise how victims of trauma treated

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah lawmakers are preparing a bill aimed at improving the way emotional trauma victims are treated in the criminal justice system.

If passed, the bill would standardize trauma-informed practices across government agencies.

It would devote resources to learning more about the ways victims are affected, as well as addressing some of the pressing problems already identified. The bill will also put in place “trauma-informed practices” for all levels of the justice system, including police officers, medical first responders and the legal courts.

Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said bettering the criminal justice system is a bipartisan issue, which is why the two have come together to sponsor HB177. As of Jan. 29, the bill has yet to be heard by a committee.

Escamilla and Ivory oversaw a panel discussion on the topic on Capitol Hill Jan. 16.

The panel was split into three different sections. Sexual assault survivors were at the forefront of the evening, telling stories about how the justice system had failed them. The panelists drew rapt attention from the crowd.

Jennifer Livsey and her daughter Rhiannon are all too aware that the justice system needs to reform the way it treats victims of trauma.

Rhiannon’s stepfather sexually abused her for over a decade. After he was arrested, a police officer told Jennifer to come and talk to him in his car. Jennifer remembers blacking in and out of the conversation as the officer told what her husband had been doing to her daughter.

Jennifer and Rhiannon said what happened in the years that followed is difficult to understand unless someone has gone through the same trauma, but they believe it is important to try.

The family experienced serious financial fallout, suicidal thoughts, shaking, nightmares, acute depression and severe mental anguish. Throughout the court process, they said they were forced to endure victim blaming and lies.

Jennifer remembers not being given any instruction for what they were supposed to do or any information about what was going on over the court process. What little information they received was impossible to retain because of the trauma the family experienced.

They assumed the perpetrator would serve a life sentence and did what they could to heal until Jennifer unexpectedly learned he would be released.

“If anybody is really wondering if there is really a hell, there is a hell,” Jennifer said. “It’s when you find out your offender is going to be released.”

Lobbyist Amy Coombs said Rhiannon and Jennifer’s experience is not just the exception;  it’s the norm. She surveyed victims about what they experienced throughout the criminal justice system.

“Victims felt like they weren’t being heard,” Coombs said.

Coombs said an immense burden is placed on victims when they are trying to navigate the justice system, but trauma doesn’t just happen in the very beginning.

It’s not just a one-time thing that needs to be addressed, Coombs said. It needs to be across the board.

Ivory said the legislation would be fundamental in helping victims who have trouble remembering and understanding information through the justice system.

Turner Bitton, executive director of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said survivors of sexual assault are more than their trauma.

“As a survivor, you matter and are entitled to your own healing process,” Bitton said.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, rape or domestic violence, there are resources available. Call 1-800-897-5465 to talk to the Utah Domestic Violence Line or 1-888-421-1100 to talk to the Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line.

This piece first appeared in the BYU Universe. Click here to read the original article. 

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Sex trafficking will continue until underlying economic causes are identified, expert says at Utah symposium

The trafficking of young people for sex is something that goes mostly unspoken, yet it is prevalent worldwide and in Salt Lake City.

Without identifying the underlying causes, human trafficking will continue unabated, said Claude d’Estree at the 4th Annual Human Trafficking Symposium Friday at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney School of Law.

Traditionally, law enforcement has approached the phenomenon with prosecution, protection and prevention — the three Ps — said d’Estree of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

And often, the discussions focus on international trafficking.

But localities should be considering causes and conditions that lead to trafficking, d’Estree said, as well as cures for the prevailing attitudes and economics that underwrite it. He dubbed them the three Cs.

“The causes and conditions are often unique to a community and therefore the cures are different,” he said. “The cure for trafficking in Albania, India and the U.S. are completely different. We ought to be talking about this on a community level, rather than internationally.”

It is difficult to quantify the number of victims but estimates are in the tens of millions globally. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), victims of sex trafficking can be women or men, girls or boys, but the majority are women and girls.

They can be lured into sex trafficking by a promise of a good job in another country, according to the agency, or by a false marriage proposal turned into a bondage situation, being sold into the sex trade by parents, husbands, boyfriends and being kidnapped by traffickers.

d’Estree’s comments stand in contrast to those of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who told the symposium audience that a global approach is necessary.

“We can’t believe that if we only work here in Utah we will solve the problem,” he said, prior to d’Estree’s presentation. “By eradicating it worldwide, we will keep it from coming here.”

The attorney general noted that law enforcement sting operations, like the one in Cartagena, Colombia in 2014, in which he participated, would go a long way to crushing out child sex trafficking.

“How amazing, you can’t buy kids for sex any more in Cartagena,” he told the audience. “If that can happen in Cartagena, it can happen here.”

d’Estree, however, took exception with that approach, saying 20 years ago he would have agreed. But the prosecutorial approach, he said, has not worked, largely because it is not based on data analysis.

The vast majority of funding goes to rescue and rehabilitation work, d’Estree said, while money for research, data collection and analysis is scarce. The result, he explained, is that governments and international organizations make important policy decisions based on little analysis.

“The main mission of sound research methodology is to create reasonably policy making,” he said. “Research in human trafficking is difficult but possible.”

Nonetheless, prosecution of traffickers must continue, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, in an interview. But the complexities of human trafficking in the internet age make it much more difficult.

A pimp and his prostitutes can make appointments in Salt Lake City over the internet from another location, Gill explained, come in for a week and then disappear to their next stop along a multi-city route.

However, the district attorney said he does support a hybrid of the three Ps and three Cs.

“If we do not recognize the [underlying] economics of exploitation and sex trafficking, we cannot have a systemic response, only a reactive one,” he said. “Changing cultural attitudes that women aren’t chattel and providing them with education changes that economic system.”

Attitudes about sex trafficking are slowly changing to a recognition that sex workers are victims, rather than perpetrators, said Alana Kindness of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).

Salt Lake City police are now reaching out to women on the street in an effort to keep them out of the criminal justice system, Kindness said. Nonetheless, she remains concerned that police arrest far more women than they do their male customers.

Trafficking is not just the realm of pimps and is more prevalent than people realize, she said. Economics plays a significant role in making young women and young men vulnerable to trafficking.

“The indicators are visible, but the act of exploitation takes place out of the public eye,” Kindness said. “Any time you see folks who are struggling and looking for a place to live, we know sex trafficking is happening.”

Sex trafficking is only part of the global slave trade. Four times as many people are trafficked for labor than for sex, according to many estimates. But labor trafficking gets far less funding.

“The 13-year-old Thai girl at a brothel tugs at our heart more than the 27-year-old man who works 18 hours a day picking oranges,” d’Estree said. “There is no silver bullet, no quick fix, no easy answers — the problem will only get worse during our lifetimes.”

This piece first appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Click here to read the original article. 

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Symposium addresses action plan against online misogyny and violence

SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) - Sexual assault survivors, prevention specialists, and law enforcement were among dozens of people who attended the Silicon Safety Symposium Tuesday afternoon. The event is for leaders and advocates to learn more about violence towards women in the digital age and how to take action in their community.

The symposium was held at the University of Utah by the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).

Presentations included a discussion on how misogynistic viewpoints flourish within and between online spaces, how online pornography normalizes the relationship between violence and sex, and how to take action against online misogyny and violence.

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead was one of the presenters at the symposium. She said that while the Internet provides a lot of advantages, it's also created an issue of unethical behavior online.

"Think about it in terms of road rage. You're more likely to curse or say something in your car where no one can hear you than directly say it to someone else's face. So same thing online - the anonymity, there's like a wall, there's a shield. We can't see the physical effects we're making. But just because we can't see it doesn't mean there aren't effects," said Rogers-Whitehead.

Carlie Knudsen, a sexual assault survivor, said one of the reasons why she attended the symposium is because she wants to be part of the solution.

"It just makes me so angry to hear people deny that this is an issue," said Knudsen.

Alondra Diaz, also a sexual assault survivor, expressed surprised in how many people showed up to the event.

"I actually felt really relieved that so many people showed up here today because I didn't imagine so many people would be intrigued, interested, or even want to have that kind of conversation, especially in a state where we don't have any comprehensive sex education," said Diaz.

She said because of her personal connection to the topics at hand, it was shocking to learn about the online trends in pornography searches during one of the presentations.

"What hit home for me were the words, "free rape." It was just an interesting term because rape in itself is a way to gain that freedom from someone else. So that's what really hit home with me. How those two words were compounded together and how people would search for that...the word rape is very detrimental," said Diaz.

However, Rogers-Whitehead believes that facilitating conversation about the issues at hand is necessary to combat the issue.

"We need to normalize talking about sex and talking about rape culture. We don't need to normalize rape culture itself," said Rogers-Whitehead.

While Diaz is happy to see the effect of the #MeToo movement, she said she doesn't entirely agree with the labels being used.

"Right now, it is a little bit hurtful that they're calling it a 'witch hunt,' which I don't personally find it as. Calling it 'trivial' is very undermining the awareness and acknowledgment of what sexual violence and rape culture permeates in our society," said Diaz.

Rogers-Whitehead said one of the ways to combat the issue of sexual harassment is to explain consent to children at an early age because the age group most vulnerable to assault is teens.

"The average age of hardcore pornography exposure is around 11 or 12. You also have the average age of sextortation, which means "Send me nude pics and I'll do something extorting" and that's at 15," said Rogers-Whitehead.

The symposium concluded with a session about how community leaders and advocates can take local action against online misogyny and violence.

UCASA will be holding their annual Utah Sexual Violence Conference, which is open to the public. For more information, click here.

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Hatch and Corwin: A lifeline for victims of child pornography

Child pornography leaves in its wake a trail of tragedy and shattered life. While public policy may never eradicate this evil altogether, it can at least alleviate the suffering of its victims. That’s exactly what Senator Hatch has sought to do with a groundbreaking new proposal that will provide justice for victims of child pornography.

Few could name a more traumatic experience than being sexually abused during childhood. But photographs or video of that abuse circulating on the Internet can turn a victim’s life into a never-ending nightmare. The Supreme Court itself has acknowledged that “every viewing of child pornography is a repetition of the victim’s abuse.”

One recent study found that 70 percent of adults who are victims of child pornography worry about being recognized by someone who has seen their sexual abuse images. And their worries are not unfounded: an estimated 30 percent of victims have actually reported being recognized. Victims also worry about images and videos of their abuse being used to facilitate the sexual abuse of other children in the same way such images were used by their tormentors.

The growing menace of child pornography is perpetuated by everyone in the chain of its creation, distribution, and consumption. Each step in this cycle is driven by the other. And while we may never know the number and identity of all the people who contribute to this heinous practice, we do know that the harm caused to its victims never ends.

The ongoing nature of child pornography’s harm means that its victims can require lifelong treatment to address their chronic distress. The “ordinary” path of growing up can be challenging enough; for child pornography victims, it can be unbearable.

That’s why more than two decades ago, Congress sought to help victims of child sexual abuse by requiring that defendants pay restitution to cover “all a victim’s losses.” That worked reasonably well for crimes in which a particular defendant caused finite harm to an individual victim. That statute, however, was enacted before the Internet became the primary method of child pornography trafficking. And in a 2014 case argued by University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell, the Supreme Court made it clear that this statute cannot provide meaningful restitution for most child pornography victims.

In an effort to update our laws for the digital age, Senator Hatch has introduced the Amy, Vicky, and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act, named after the victims of some of the most widely circulated child pornography series in the world. “Amy” brought her case to the Supreme Court and “Andy,” who is aided by the tireless advocates at the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic, is a Utah resident.

Under this legislation-which already has nearly two dozen bipartisan co-sponsors-victims will be able to choose which form of assistance will help them most. For those seeking restitution from defendants, this bill revises the criteria and options for judges to calculate losses and impose restitution. Victims may, as an alternative, apply for a one-time payment from the existing Crime Victims Fund maintained by the Department of Justice.

Importantly, this commonsense proposal also gives victims the same access to evidence, such as images and videos, that defendants already have. Access to evidence can be important, for example, if a victim pursues a civil action in which the identity of the victim must be proved.

National and state organizations active in prosecuting criminals and helping victims have endorsed this innovative legislation. Such groups include the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, National Center for Victims of Crime, National District Attorneys Association, National Crime Victim Bar Association, National Organization for Victim Assistance, and National Crime Victims Law Institute. The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children-one of the leading organizations in the fight against child pornography-has also voiced its strong support for this bill.

This legislation is the right prescription because it is based on the right understanding of the unique ways in which child pornography hurts its victims. These young men and women desperately need our help, which is why we call on Congress to pass this bill without delay.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT), the senior member and a former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is the sponsor of S.2152. David Corwin, M.D., is Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine and President-Elect of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.
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Cedar City woman latest victim of online cancer, getting unwanted nude pics

(KUTV) - Taylor Cella didn’t know the guy, and she certainly didn’t want a picture of his penis, but the man, via SnapChat sent that image anyway, “and then the next day I’m get a picture from him,” says Cella, “why do I have to see that when I don't know you we don't have a relationship,” she says.

Cella is the victim of a growing, and disturbing phenomenon, men sending pictures to women, uninvited, of their genitals. It is a problem that is often ignored, or laughed off, but Turner Bitton with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, says it is a serious affront to women, and can be called nothing else but sexual harassment, “the person who is motivated to do this sort of thing is motivated by a desire to have power and control,” says Bitton.

It might be the next battleground in the MeToo Movement.

The idea that our society is finally recognizing the ever-present existence of sexual intimidation and harassment in our society.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says sending a sexually explicit picture unsolicited could be grounds for charges, “you shouldn’t be subjected to this, if you are a victim of this, file a report contact your law enforcement (agency).”

Bitton, Gill, and Cella all agree it is time for men who send these kinds of pictures to realize it is time to grow up, “as our technology evolves our response has to evolve and we have to become good digital citizens as well as offline citizens,” says Bitton.

UCASA will be sponsoring a symposium on sexual harassment on-line on January 16th, 2018 at the University of Utah Student Union building, in the Saltair Room.

This piece first appeared on Click here to read the original article.


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‘Rape kit’ party gift sparks outrage against Salt Lake City tattoo parlor

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.”

This piece first appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Click here to read the original article. 

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Drawing a Line: How to recognize and eliminate sexual harassment in your organization (yes, yours too)

Harvey Weinstein. Al Franken. Charlie Rose.

The last several weeks have been filled with a seemingly endless line of allegations against high-profile celebrities, politicians and businessmen, and as more victims come forward, even more appear. Sexual harassment is a phenomenon that just happens in other places and other industries—until it happens close to home, too.

“Suddenly, I [as a victim] don’t need to worry as much about the politics or my standing and relationship with my superiors; I can make this claim, because look at these other individuals who have come forward and made the claim and it’s been positively received. It’s empowering and it’s encouraging,” says Ryan Nelson, Utah president of Employers Council. “Seeing all this happening and the positive news reports and people coming out and condemning the behavior is extremely empowering and gives courage for an individual to report.”

This rising tide of revelation and accusation has many business leaders holding their breath. Will my organization be the next to be hit with a sexual harassment scandal?

As awareness grows on a subject that has been something of an open secret in many sectors of business, victims feel increasingly comfortable about speaking up. And as the ripples of newfound boldness and accusations expand, it’s more important than ever for employers and employees alike to know how to recognize sexual harassment and keep it from happening in their own workplaces.

Most advice aimed at business leaders is about mitigating legal exposure: how to prevent sexual harassment so you don’t get sued. How to pretend to take it seriously so you don’t get sued. How to create a policy so you’ll win if you get sued.

But this cultural moment offers an opportunity to go well beyond legal liability. How can you create a workplace culture that simply does not tolerate sexual harassment—because harassment is wrong, whether or not you’re legally responsible for it?

What it is

While sexual harassment certainly includes lewd comments or actions meant to provoke or make a person uncomfortable, it can also be a much more subtle, nuanced pattern of behavior.

“Understanding sexual harassment is the first step for the victims and those who are harassers. There are some harassers who don’t have a clue they’re engaging in sexual harassment behaviors,” says Kristina Diekmann, David Eccles professor of business ethics and professor of management. “The more egregious forms, people can agree on, but more subtle forms, I think there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty. It’s really important to increase awareness of what sexual harassment is, what the behaviors entail—that’s the first step for everyone.”

One misconception is that a comment or action has to be sexual in nature for it to constitute sexual harassment, says Nelson, and while those types of behaviors certainly qualify, the definition is much broader than just that.

“What we focus on from a legal standpoint with sexual harassment is the content,” he says. “Is there sexual context or connotation associated with the language, the gestures, the behavior, the written or verbal statements?”

Legally, the intent of a comment or action doesn’t matter, he says. What matters is how it’s perceived by the person on the other end. Something that one person feels is harmless or normal could be offensive or unwelcome to another person. The test is whether a “reasonable person”—a somewhat generalized term meant to include a social and cultural average of acceptability—would find the behavior or actions offensive, either by severity or duration.

Repeated sexual advances, comments on appearance or lifestyle, not-so-hilarious jokes and unwanted touching—even “friendly” hugs—fall in the repertoire of harassment. Compliments about someone’s appearance, for instance, may seem harmless, but can be less than positive for the recipient. “My intent may not be to degrade someone, but at the end of the day I’ve sexually patted someone on the head,” explains Turner C. Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

While women most often take the brunt of sexual harassment, men aren’t exempt. Men working in fields traditionally dominated by women, such as nursing or teaching at an elementary level, for example, are frequently subjected to sexual harassment based on their gender, says Bitton.

Also, notes Diekmann, minorities and members of the LGBTQ community are often targets of sexual harassment because they are typically at a lower position of power within society, making them more vulnerable.

“You see it go really all directions. Unfortunately, we get bogged down in this concept of intent rather than thinking about how a comment affected another person,” Bitton says. “[Sexual harassment] creates this power imbalance that grows over time and it leads to a degradation of a person’s power in the workplace.”

Because sexual harassment can lie in subtleties as well as overt behavior, Bitton suggests a quick check on whether or not something might have been sexual harassment: “One of the ways to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace is to consider, ‘Would I say this comment to someone of the same sex or to a friend or someone I trust? Would I say this same comment to a male colleague or to a female colleague?”

What it can do

Although some forms of sexual harassment might seem minor to some, the effects of harassment on victims can be profound and long-lasting. Diekmann has studied the physical, emotional and psychological repercussions of being on the receiving end of sexual harassment—whether or not a victim defines it in so many words.

“There’s a whole host of negative things that can occur, and that’s even if the victim doesn’t even perceive they’re being sexually harassed. The mere fact of the behavior itself can lead to these things,” she says. “It’s such a negative experience that it has these negative consequences.”

Physically, victims might experience anxiety, loss of sleep, feelings of stress, headaches and nausea, and the effects could even lead to depression. Victims also often experience a loss of productivity and morale. The hostile work environment that can allow a sexual harassment to occur and fester can also be damaging to the workplace as a whole.


There are many reasons why a person might not define behavior as sexual harassment, says Diekmann. There is often a power imbalance between victim and perpetrator, for example, and a victim might fear retaliation or hostile scrutiny for speaking up. And because a person’s workplace can become their second home, in a sense, the feeling of betrayal from a member of their workplace “family” can be a difficult emotion for the brain to process, she says.

“A lot of times there’s a sort of defense mechanism to say, ‘It’s not me; it’s other people but not me,’ because it can be really damaging to admit that,” she says. “It’s somewhat of a betrayal, and this person is doing this to me—that’s really hard to acknowledge and psychologically admit that to yourself, especially when you’re depending on this person, when you’re trusting this person, when this person should be looking out for your best interests but they’re not.”

Most commonly, reporting sexual harassment has done little but open the victim up to scrutiny. When Anita Hill testified that she had been a victim of sexual harassment from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—then a nominee for the court, and her boss—she was accused of fabricating or exaggerating the claims as retaliation for a missed promotion. Diekmann says victims are often blamed for bringing on or misinterpreting the offensive behavior, particularly if they have brushed off ongoing harassment for a period before deciding to report it. That kind of environment will only make the effects of the harassment worse for victims.

“Especially if the victim has been silent and it’s been going on for a long time and then finally someone speaks up about it, there’s a lot of victim blaming that occurs. If they have the courage to speak up about it and this has been going on, this person needs to be supported,” she says.

What can be done

Establishing a clear set of rules—and sticking to it—is a vital first step to preventing all forms of harassment, says Nelson. And part of that policy needs to be a complaint mechanism that actually works, he says, “not just on paper … we’ve said it but we don’t actually do anything about it. There needs to be a functional, legitimate complaint mechanism, so that individuals who feel they have been subjected to harassment can speak up and say something with an assurance that the company treats it seriously and will respond appropriately.”

If allegations are made, Nelson says to conduct a serious investigation. “Don’t pass judgment initially; let the process do its job and then draw whatever the appropriate conclusions are after that process,” he adds. “If there has been inappropriate behavior, deal with it. Remove it from the workplace, because that’s not the kind of employer you want to be.”

Joseph Grenny, co-founder of VitalSmarts, points to an unusual model for employers to follow to create a sexual harassment-free zone. The Other Side Academy, which Grenny co-founded with entrepreneur Tim Stay, employs, educates and houses ex-convicts. The male and female ex-convicts, whom Grenny says have served five to 10 years in prison and have been arrested an average of 25 times, live and work together. And yet, since the academy’s founding in 2015, there have been almost no reports of sexual harassment or conduct—not even consensual, he says. That is thanks in large part to clear, enforced rules and strong leadership.

“This isn’t coming from the HR department or some compliance brochure from an outside training company—all of the outsourcing things bureaucracy tends to try to do with this. This is fundamentally a leadership problem. The leaders crisply and clearly explain the boundaries and what the rules are and how it works,” he says, noting that accountability starts at the top for not just sexual harassment, but subtle infringements of every rule. “If the leaders aren’t modeling that then the corruption spreads down through the whole organization. … If they are [modeling adherence to the rules], that reinforces the message for the rest of the organization; if they’re not, that sends the message that there’s wiggle room, that the message slides.”

Grenny adds, “Leaders have to craft a culture where people can speak up, one where everybody knows they can challenge anybody about anything that happens. If you confront something and make a little bit of social awkwardness for someone, that is far better than HR prosecuting cases and far better than someone getting dismissed from their job—although that may need to happen.”

To encourage employees to speak up, Bitton suggests companies provide training on bystander intervention. Co-workers who witness harassment can quickly shift the situation by redirecting the conversation or directly intervening. Bystanders are “a critical component in changing the culture” of an organization, says Bitton.

Men, in particular, have an important role to play, as they tend to wield more power in most companies. “Men need to speak up against it when they see it,” says Diekmann. “When they see someone making a sexually harassing comment, they need to find a way to stop it.”

UCASA offers free training on what constitutes sexual harassment and how to prevent it, says Bitton. Bitton himself says he challenges every workplace to address the problem, whether they’ve had a complaint or not.

“That lasting cultural change is how each person can make sure the #metoo campaign doesn’t disappear next month. Certainly we have a long way to go, but there are so many businesses and agencies in the state that are standing out not only for their recruitment but for the cultures they’ve created, and that’s a role every person can play,” he says.

Diekmann is also hoping for lasting change. “My hope is [this cultural moment] will motivate a lot of change in organizations and that it’s not just a momentary awareness and then it fades and things go back to normal—normal meaning bad. … Hopefully there’s this surge that will make it less likely that harassment will be as rampant as it has been.”

This post originally appeared in Utah Business Magazine. Click here to see the original article.

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