‘This is Not New’ | Buzz Blog

‘This is Not New’ 

Crowd gathers to support victims of sexual violence and call out Utah’s senators for not taking allegations seriously.

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click to enlarge RAY HOWZE
  • Ray Howze

When McKenna Denson asked the crowd of more than 50 if they knew someone who had been sexually assaulted, all but a few raised their hands. When she asked how many had been sexually assaulted themselves, the number of raised hands dwindled slightly. But when she asked the throng how happy they were “this day has come where we can stand up and be believed,” everyone lifted their hands in the air.


Denson is the woman who accused former Missionary Training Center president Joseph Bishop of rape. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in August, citing the statute of limitations. But Denson still is speaking out.


Hours after Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testified at a Senate hearing about sexual assault allegations against the Supreme Court nominee, Denson was joined Thursday by dozens outside the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building downtown to rally against sexual violence.


click to enlarge McKenna Denson - RAY HOWZE
  • Ray Howze
  • McKenna Denson

“What Dr. Ford did [Thursday] and the other victims coming forward, they are very, very brave women,” Denson said. “I understand what is required to give of ourselves just to come forward, whether we are believed or not believed—we put ourselves out there for public ridicule.”


Moroni Benally, co-founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters, helped organize the “Say No To Rape” rally and urged Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee to take the allegations against Kavanaugh seriously and avoid victim-blaming.


“It’s a somber day actually,” Benally told the crowd. “This is not new. All this hearing has done is unveil this … I don’t know how to say it nicely … the disrespect, the silencing, the negation of not only women, but anyone who has experienced sexual violence and sexual assault.”


Hatch drew criticism for telling reporters he thought Ford was an “attractive witness.”


"It’s too early to make those kinds of determinations, but she’s a good witness. Articulate. She’s an attractive person," Hatch said, according to MSNBC reporter Garrett Haake. "But I think it’s a little early to make those kinds of determinations."


According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women in the U.S. will be raped at some point in their lives. For men, about one in 71 are raped. As many as 91 percent of rape victims are women. It also is one of the most underreported crimes—63 percent—according to the center.


More than 45 percent of Native American women are subjected to some form of sexual violence, data from the center shows. Some reports suggest the number could be even higher. According to a 2016 report from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, as many as 56 percent of Native American and Alaska Native women experience sexual violence.


“These are not just numbers. It's not really about data, it’s about human beings,” Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialog and Organizing Support (PANDOS) tribal liaison Cassandra Begay told City Weekly in March. “This isn’t just an indigenous issue; it’s a human rights issue.”


Thursday’s speakers, including Benally and Denson, shared personal accounts of sexual assault—at times holding back tears.


click to enlarge RAY HOWZE
  • Ray Howze

One person in the crowd wore a shirt with the words, “Vote rape apologists out!” Another held a sign that said, “I didn’t report, ” while another read, “I stand with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.”


“Our elected officials who are elected to lead us have denied the voices of more than half of their population,” Benally said. “They have sent a signal throughout this country and, perhaps throughout the world, that it is not OK for anyone to come forward and speak their truth—and that is wrong.”


Matt Romrell, who attended the rally, said it’s “just about everyone I know” who has been affected by sexual assault or violence. He said he came to “support people who are telling their stories.”


“After reading comments today and seeing all the people who are not believing, belittling or calling out liars, it’s important to show people that there are people who believe you and stand by you,” he said.


As for Denson, she said she doesn’t plan to give up speaking out. If her story helps others, she says, her efforts will be a success.


“The criticism I’ve received by standing up has been pretty debilitating,” Denson said. “At the same time, the stories I hear about victims like me who have not been believed, who finally have found their courage to come forward, is the reason I continue to carry on.”


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