sunday toon

Everyone would like to think that their community is above the fray when it comes to the waves of dysfunctional behavior that wash over this country periodically.

But thanks to social media, everything from prescription drug abuse and excessive use of force by police to texting while driving are widely shared to the point that no city seems exempt.

Now come Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo. Flagstaff, like most of America, doesn’t have any bigshot Hollywood producers offering big movie roles subject to sexual blackmail. But the nationwide response to #MeToo indicates that sexual harassment in the workplace and on the streets is pervasive to the point that women aren’t going to be silent anymore.

The Daily Sun reached out to #MeToo participants from Flagstaff and has published a sampling of their stories today. There is no single thread – the behaviors the women recount include fondling, coercion, unwanted touching and catcalling. Sexual assaults (as defined by law) in these posts are rare. But the abuse of power and crossing personal boundaries with impunity has the same effect of humiliation and disempowerment, and no one reading these stories could dispute that it’s happening in Flagstaff today.

This region has actually been sensitized to high-profile workplace harassment for several years as details of the misconduct by Grand Canyon National Park’s river rafting unit came to light. Women who complained about the abusive behavior were ignored for years – it finally took a new, female director of the Interior Department, Sally Jewell, to crack down, up to and including the park superintendent.

As we report today, Grand Canyon has a new female park superintendent who takes reports of sexual harassment personally. Christine Lehnertz rose through the ranks of the male-dominated Park Service, experiencing her share of catcalls, leering and unwanted touching. A recent Park Service survey found 58 percent of female employees under the age of 25 reported being sexually harassed, a level Lehnertz says is incompatible with an institution often called “America’s Best Idea.”

Ironically, even as reports grow of pervasive hostile work environments for women in a host of government agencies, including Congress, Lehnertz is the fourth woman in as many years to take on a top land management job in northern Arizona. As we report today, women now oversee the Kaibab and Coconino national forests as well as the Flagstaff Area National Monuments.

That has to be positive news for the young women coming up the ranks behind them, especially as more graduate with degrees in natural resource fields and take jobs in traditionally male land management agencies. Changing the culture of an agency has to start with sensitivity at the top, and female managers are likely to know first-hand what it takes to get that job done.

Finally, we report today a rise in sexual assaults in the region, or at least in the number of women seeking help through Northern Arizona Care and Services After Assault (NACASA). This may be a factor of heightened awareness of the services available in greater Flagstaff to victims of sexual assault, including a tripling of forensic intake examiners. There have already been 141 exams with two months left to go in 2017 vs. 135 for all of last year.

The disconnect comes in the cases police wind up charging – in Flagstaff, only about a third of the exams are recorded as formal sexual assaults. That’s due in part to stricter legal definitions of sexual assault, including between spouses, that are not applied when women seek help from NACASA. We’d urge women who have been victimized by violence, abuse and harassment to seek out those services and others that we list elsewhere in today’s edition. #MeToo can be a powerful tool on behalf of solidarity and awareness. But it takes an entire community to make change happen.

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