With the #MeToo movement growing nationwide, the Daily Sun asked readers about their own experiences with sexual harassment in Flagstaff. Their names have been changed or withheld upon request.
Here are a few of their stories.
“Me, too. Over and over and over again.”
That’s how Lynn started off her Facebook post joining the #MeToo movement. Having worked in the service industry for 15 years, “sexual harassment is considered just part of the culture,” Lynn said.
In her former job working at a restaurant in town, Lynn would regularly get patrons commenting on her body.
“It’s like they had no filter or something,” she said.
Over her four years working at the restaurant, Lynn also dealt with nearly constant harassment from the head chef, who texted her incessantly.
“It was like, ‘I like you, you look good in those jeans, you're so beautiful,’ and it got to the point where the person was saying, ‘can't we just have sex, just one time,’” Lynn said.
She never reciprocated his advances.
“I could never figure out why this person wouldn't stop, even though I had said, ‘you need to stop. This is uncomfortable, this isn't professional, you're married you have children I’m not interested in you,’” she said.
He also treated her differently than others at the restaurant, offering to cook her food, for example.
She said she hopes that the #MeToo posts will help raise awareness.
“It doesn't have to be a huge movement, it can just be a conversation that people are all of the sudden more comfortable to have in the workplace, saying this is happening and now that it’s out there we can talk about it,” Lynn said.
An experience with a more senior male colleague was one of the triggers for Elizabeth to post a #MeToo message on her Facebook page last month. When the experience happened, Elizabeth was 23 years old and working in sales. She and the colleague went out to lunch and ordered drinks. The man had gone through at least two margaritas when, out of nowhere, he asked her how old she was when she lost her virginity.
“I made some snarky comment like ‘in high school like most normal people’ or something and tried to change the subject,” Elizabeth said.
But then the man, who Elizabeth estimated is in his 60s, went on to ask her how many sexual partners she had had since then and told her about his and his wife’s sexual history.
Uncomfortable and not sure of what to say next, Elizabeth excused herself and went to the restroom.
When she got back, the man didn’t bring up the subject again.
It took her three or four months to report the incident to her bosses.
She said she kept quiet about the experience for so long because she thought maybe she should excuse the man’s behavior as bar talk — like locker room talk — or give him the benefit of the doubt because of how much he had been drinking.
“I remember thinking that if I were a guy he probably would have had that conversation and it probably wouldn't have been a big deal,” Elizabeth said.
During past jobs as a bartender and server in Flagstaff, Angela said she experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis from both coworkers and customers.
“My boundaries got blurred a lot between what was OK and what was not OK,” Angela said.
It also happened with her bosses.
One day, it was the boss who commented on her bra, telling her he could see it through her shirt and it was sexy.
Another time it was a different boss who came up to her, telling her if he wasn’t married he would grab her ass right then.
“Because he's in a position of power it’s difficult for me to lay down my boundaries because it could affect my scheduling. If I piss him off it would be a problem," Angela said.
Most of the time in those situations, she said she smiled and laughed or said “thank you." She was often too afraid to confront the commenter.
What she went through at work in the service industry wasn’t her only experience with harassment — Angela still goes to therapy weekly for sexual assault she experienced in college and high school.
She has also been grabbed from behind repeatedly at music events in town and had one man suddenly and randomly threaten to rape her as she picked up trash after an event outside of town.
Angela said she didn’t make her own #MeToo post because it felt too personal, but she appreciated others doing so.
"It helps me not to feel alone," she said. “The MeToo hashtag in my opinion was to call attention to women in solidarity.”
For Sarah, her experience with what she calls “low grade” sexual harassment made her compare it to an East Coast driver becoming desensitized to road kill.
Sometimes she has to recalibrate, Sarah said.
“It’s like, no, they're saying really profane things,” she said.
Sarah said she gets approached at least two or three times a week, usually by people saying something inappropriate.
She recalled walking with her friend when a man they didn’t know asked her friend, “Wow, are those real?” referring to her chest. When they tried to ignore him, the man went further asking, “Is that a** real too?”
“I know that's not the same as being groped, but it kind of feels just as (bad),” Sarah said.
She knows from experience.
Last summer, when she was walking home from downtown, Sarah noticed a man walking across the street from her. As she neared her apartment, the man started running down the street away from her. Unbeknownst to her, he turned and looped behind her apartment. When she got near her door, the man approached her from the other direction and, sweaty and nervous, grabbed her breast and rear, then ran away.
It wasn’t something like a bear hug, “it was like, groped,” Sarah said.
She posted about the incident on Facebook and reported it to police, but the case was a dead end. She said she wanted to say something about her experience because she has stuffed so many others away, desensitizing herself to that type of harassment, she said.
Sarah posted her own #MeToo message and said the movement “makes it feel like somebody has your back.”
Hannah’s experience with sexual harassment in Flagstaff includes what she says are “the normal catcalling, following, whistling.” In one instance it was 6:30 a.m. on a workday and Hannah was walking downtown. As she passed by two men, they began calling her “princess” and asking to touch her hair and her dress.
Another time, Hannah said she was whistled at out of a car window. When she didn’t respond or acknowledge it, the man called her a vulgarity.
Hannah said she never confronted any of the men that spoke to her inappropriately.
“Usually I ignore them and walk faster,” she said. “I try to kind of not give myself any more attention.”
She wrote her own #MeToo post and had many of her friends do the same.
“It felt very powerful to know there were multiple friends feeling or experiencing these same things,” Hannah said. “A lot of them had never admitted to something happening before so (the #MeToo posts) gave women an opportunity to speak up for maybe the first time publicly about abuse or assault or harassment.”
For five women who worked at the same business, hearing other women speak out about sexual harassment brought back memories of years working at the business and being subjected to inappropriate comments and unwelcome touches from the owner.
One woman, who did not want to give her name, said she was working with a client when the owner of the business walked by and patted her on the rear, and the client saw the incident. The woman said when she told the owner she did not like being touched there, he said she was just asking for special treatment.
When asked by the Daily Sun about the incident, the owner said the business is small and any touches were accidental.
The woman said when workers would quit, the owner would joke and make fun of the women for their sex lives, and would make sexual jokes in front of clients.
A second woman said she also experienced “a** slaps” while at work, and said the owner’s words about women were “degrading and inappropriate” and said he would comment about workers and clients, and would say things like “nice boobs.”
A third woman said the owner once cornered her and yelled at her at work, and then when he went to apologize, tried to kiss her on the lips, which she said he did to everyone.
That woman, who also did not want to be named, said when she told him she did not want to eat candy because it would make her “butt get bigger” the owner made a comment about improving sexual acts.
The first woman, who worked there about 10 years ago, said she hired an assistant who was in high school at the time. When the assistant, who also did not wish to be identified by name, was going to move away for college, the owner suggested she get a job in a topless bar, she said.
When asked by the Daily Sun about the suggestion, the owner said his brother owns the bar and the assistant was looking for a new job, so he suggested that she get a job there.
A fifth woman, who also did not want to be identified, said once, when she was working with her sister as a client, the owner approached her and said “nice rack.” The owner proceeded to “grab my left boob,” the woman said. The woman said she did not think the owner knew her sister was in the room and saw the entire interaction.
When the woman wanted to quit her job, she said the owner called her a “tramp” and threw her out that day.
“It is scary when you’re young and trying to build a clientele,” she said. “And that’s a busy (workplace), you can build a clientele really quickly, and I think he knows that and takes advantage of it.”
When Chris Lehnertz took the helm at Grand Canyon National Park last fall, she became the first female superintendent in the park's nearly 100-year history.
A notable moment for Grand Canyon, Lehnert’z arrival also made her the fourth woman in as many years to take over a top land management job in northern Arizona. Women now oversee the Kaibab and Coconino national forests as well as the Flagstaff Area National Monuments. Together, they are responsible for more than 7,000 square miles of public land stretching from the Kaibab Plateau to the Mogollon Rim.
The women also came into their current roles at a time when gender representation and gender relations in the Park Service and Forest Service are receiving heightened attention.
While it’s no longer a rarity for women to hold top public lands jobs, the fact remains that the balance in both agencies remains lopsided, with women making up 35 percent of employees at the Forest Service and 38 percent at the National Park Service.
At the same time, the agencies are confronting longstanding patterns of harassment, including sexual harassment, that have been forced into the spotlight through news reports, federal testimony, surveys and agency investigations.
The two are connected, Lehnertz said.
“I do believe there is a certain amount of culture change that comes from having more women in the workforce,” Lehnertz said. "It doesn't just take women to change our hostile work environment and sexual harassment, but it does take fair representation to change the overall culture of the Park Service."
Though women make up less than four in 10 employees at the Forest Service and Park Service, the land managers said that's a substantial increase from when they started their government jobs about 30 years ago. At the beginning, they all said they were one of only a few female faces.
On her first job with the Forest Service in 1985, Kaibab National Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio said she was the only woman on her fire crew.
“I was a novelty, we hardly had any women in leadership,” Provencio said. “When I started I felt like I had to be a guy to fit in and to be successful. I figured I needed to do what the guys did.”
The Forest Service and the Park Service didn’t have readily accessible data on the makeup of their workforces 30 years ago.
Fast forward three decades and both agencies have, at various times, been led by women, while females occupy a range of top management positions.
It's no longer a big deal to see women in positions like hers, said Laura Jo West, supervisor of the Coconino National Forest.
The Forest Service has come to recognize that women not only bring different qualities and skills but also effective leadership styles, said Carla Fisher in a 2012 Forest Service blog post.
Further back in the agency's history, Fisher, who has studied the history of women in the Forest Service, noted other factors that compelled the Forest Service to diversify its workforce. One was a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by a female employee in 1972 that forced the agency to change its practices in relation to women and minorities. Another was the women’s and environmental movements of the 1970s that forced shifts in agency attitudes towards land management and human resources, Fisher wrote in her 2010 dissertation.
Yet another factor for all public lands agencies is the increasing number of women graduating with relevant degrees. A 2010 paper about gender diversification in the Forest Service authored by Australian researcher Greg Brown noted that by the early 2000s, more than half of students graduating with undergraduate or master’s degrees in agricultural and natural resource fields were female.
From her own experience, Provencio said the biggest factor in attracting more women to public lands work is seeing other women in those same roles.
“Diversity begets diversity,” she said.
Kayci Cook Collins, the superintendent of the Flagstaff Area National Monuments, similarly said that as a young Park Service employee it really mattered to see other women break into supervisor or other leadership positions.
“When you can tell that competence is the reason for the selection, it reinforces the sense that opportunity exists for anyone who works hard and does well regardless of gender,” Collins wrote in a follow-up email.
Both women suggested those source of influence are continuing to grow, while Lehnertz pointed to another sign the gender balance could be shifting in the Park Service.
Recent statistics show that 47 percent of the agency’s temporary workforce are women. Considering the fact that those temporary employees feed into the Park Service’s permanent workforce, “that’s a good trend,” Lehnertz said.
Even as they have seen more female faces among their coworkers, the land managers said harassment has persisted through their years working in federal agencies. Early in their careers, they experienced it themselves.
For Provencio it was catcalls and remarks questioning what she was doing on the job as well as being propositioned by superiors, which caught her off-guard.
As a young temporary employee with state and federal agencies, Lehnertz said she was confronted with sexual harassment in the form of comments, looks, supervisors hitting on her and inappropriate touching.
As they advanced in their respective agencies, the women described hearing about more nasty harassment incidents, being charged with investigating certain cases and, as leaders, working to address broader causes of harassment among their employees.
The women said their personal experiences have shaped how they act toward harassment now.
“I’m not one of those people who separate who I am from my job. I am very open about that so I can’t say it doesn’t influence me,” West said in reference to her early experience with harassment.
Provencio said that after going through harassment cases herself, “I know it can happen and I’m watching for it.”
Lehnertz said sometimes it helps to tell people that she has gone through something similar.
“I have shared with individuals who have had those experiences to say you’re not alone and maybe there are more people who have experienced it than you know,” she said.
The fact that the agencies continue to be dogged by instances of harassment and hostile work environment, even as more women join the workforce, speaks to the fact that the causes of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment go beyond the Forest Service or the Park Service, Provencio and Collins said.
“I think it goes back to culture and how we were socialized,” Provencio said. “I'm talking more generally about power and where people see power sitting in the United States, with what gender. That's going to differ from family to family, but overall we have a generally male-dominated culture and many people are in that mindset.”
In addition to the gender breakdown of employees, Lehnertz thinks a lot about power as a factor in the harassment her park has experienced. She said the park “still has a ways to go” on its workplace culture. Having more women in positions of lesser power and more men in positions of greater power, “that equation results in more sexual harassment and a hostile work environment,” Lehnertz said. “Those are the kinds of things I'm looking at at Grand Canyon.”
She has a cheat sheet showing employee demographics and planned to spend the weekend going over a new draft of Park Service anti-harassment procedures. One statistic that has stuck with her is the fact that 58 percent of Park Service employees 25 or younger have experienced harassment.
A survey of all National Park Service employees released last month found nearly two in five experienced some form of harassment over a 12-month period.
For Grand Canyon in particular, Lehnertz recognizes the focus is on urgent, corrective actions since federal investigators in 2016 announced findings of a long-term pattern of sexual harassment and hostile work environment in the park’s river district. But those actions alone aren’t enough, Lehnertz said. They will have to be partnered with longer term strategies aimed at things like gender and race in the workforce, she said.
People keep asking her if she has gotten out on the river yet and the answer is no, she hasn’t, Lehnertz said.
“That would be the most fun thing to do, but that can’t be my priority,” she said. “My job is to help the workforce here.”
Sexual assault and other violent crimes against women are on the rise in the Flagstaff region, according to police and a victim advocacy group that records statistics for violent crimes against woman.
Flagstaff Police and an independent organization, Northern Arizona Care and Services after Assault (NACASA) noted increases in violent crimes against women this year to date.
These crimes include sexual assault, domestic violence and sexual assault during a domestic violence incident. An increase in medical examiners and more women reporting violent crimes are two possible explanations for the increase.
Arizona law defines sexual assault as non-consensual sexual intercourse or oral intercourse, meaning that groping or fondling a person is not sexual assault, but is still sexual misconduct.
NACASA has conducted 141 medical and forensic exams this year on women who say they have been sexually assaulted or attacked. The organization recorded 92 sexual assaults, 37 domestic violence incidents and 14 sexual assaults resulting from domestic violence.
The assaults recorded by NACASA occurred in Flagstaff, Page, Holbrook, Show Low and Springerville.
The number of violent crimes against women are slightly higher than 2016, when 135 incidents were recorded. However, this year’s numbers are already higher than the entirety of 2016.
NACASA Program director Jennifer Runge said an increase before the end of the year is a concern.
“We are already over our total numbers from last year so I am worried about the rest of the year,” Runge said. “We usually see an increase in assaults during the holidays so these numbers will increase.”
Native American woman have been the most affected by the increase with 44 percent of all violent crimes being perpetrated against them. Caucasian are the second biggest demographic with 35 percent reporting a violent crime to NACASA.
Northern Arizona University students are also disproportionately affected with 34 percent of all victims claiming they went to NAU.
Runge said NACASA began asking victims if they were NAU students last year.
NAU Police recorded 40 instances of rape and three reports of fondling in 2016. Current numbers were not immediately available.
Sexual assaults this year have occurred in the victim’s home 26 percent of the time and 43 percent of sexual assaults were allegedly committed by a friend or acquaintance, according to NACASA.
The 14 sexual assaults during domestic violence incidents were especially concerning to Runge, due to the fact they all have involved the victim being choked during an unwanted encounter.
“We are seeing more sexual assaults with a strangulation component,” Runge said. “That component combined with domestic violence is something we are concerned about because we have not seen it before.”
Runge said the increase in recorded assaults could be sign that more women are reporting violent crimes against them.
“It could be that more people feel comfortable coming to us or law enforcement,” Runge said. “It could also be that having more volunteers to do medical and forensic exams have allowed more women to report assaults.”
NACASA has dramatically increased the number of volunteer-nurses qualified to give medical and forensic exams. The organization has 17 volunteers-examiners in five locations across the county this year, which is 12 more than last year, according to records from the organization.
Flagstaff Police have also noted an increase in sexual assaults this year but their numbers differ drastically from NACASA’s.
Police have reported 35 sexual assaults in Flagstaff this year, a 43 percent increase from last year. Five of those reports stem from incidents that occurred in 2016.
Those numbers are small compared to the 108 incidents reported to NACASA.
Flagstaff Police Spokesman Sgt. Cory Runge, who is the spouse of Jennifer Runge, said the numbers are different because police are required to meet the legal definition of sexual assault in order to label the incident as such.
“We define sexual assault the way Arizona Revised Statute defines sexual assault, so if we don’t have enough evidence to substantiate that a crime occurred we can’t call it a sexual assault,” Cory Runge said. “NACASA starts by saying that the event did occur and sends testing kits to law enforcement.”
Jennifer Runge echoed that sentiment by stating that NACASA gives forensic exams to anyone who says they were assaulted and allow law enforcement to find the facts of the case.
Sexual assault test kits are sent to the Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime lab where they are tested if they give a report to police. Flagstaff Police hold onto test kits for women who do not want to submit a police report. Those kits are not tested until a report is filed.
Several websites such as Stop Street Harassment.org and ihollaback.org offer tips on how to respond to being harassed on the street.
1. If you feel comfortable and safe, confront the person.
2. Look the harasser in the eye.
3. Calmly say something like “Stop harassing me,” “Don’t touch me,” “Don’t speak to me like that” or “That’s not okay.”
4. Be polite but don’t be apologetic.
5. Let them know that if it continues that you will report them to their boss (if you can identify the company they work for) or the police. If you choose to call the police note the time, date and place. Give a description of your harasser.
6. Don’t engage in any further conversation with the harasser.
7. Walk away.
Stop Street Harassment.org also suggests getting creative. You can make cards or flyers on why street harassment is inappropriate and hand them out to someone who’s harassing you. You can also publicly shame them by asking them to repeat what they said so others can hear or by doing so yourself.
Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback also have tips for bystanders who see someone being harassed and want to step in.
1. You can confront the harasser. (see above)
2. You can distract the harasser by asking the person who is being harassed for directions or the time.
3. You can move in between the harasser and the person being harassed.
4. You can also distract the harasser by dropping something or spilling something
5. You can contact a store manager or bartender for help.
6. Ask the person being harassed if they’re alright or need help.
7. If it’s safe, document the situation using your cell phone camera. Just make sure to touch base with the person being harassed afterward about what they want to do with the recording. Don’t post it online or use it without their permission.
Arizona actually has a law against harassment. Arizona Revised Statute 13-2921 defines harassment as “conduct that is directed at a specific person and that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed or harassed and the conduct in fact seriously alarms, annoys or harasses the person.” It’s listed as a class 1 misdemeanor in Arizona, which can lead to fines of up to $2,500 and/or six months in jail. The statute also defines harassment as continuing to follow someone after you have been asked to stop and surveilling someone without a legitimate purpose.
Flagstaff Police Sgt. Cory Runge said it’s difficult to provide an exact line where a specific behavior becomes criminal. However, citizen should not be afraid to call the police if they feel they are being harassed or threatened in anyway.