When it comes to talking about a subject that can be as personal and volatile as sexual harassment, it’s hard to know where to begin. I have friends that work with the Salt Lake Fire Department, and I knew that there was a story to tell about the casual sexism that borders on harassment in such a male-dominated environment. I didn’t want to write a scandalous exposé of something along the lines of Harvey Weinstein, I wanted to highlight the ways that women are still seen as objects: even when they’re doing the same type of back-breaking work as the men around them.
The first and hardest part of developing this story was finding people who were ready to talk on the record. Everyone in this story has had their names changed for privacy. If they didn’t, no one would’ve been willing to come forward. I knew from hearing offhand comments that there was something there, but when your job is on the line if someone gets wind of what you’re saying, it’s quite the deterrent to speaking freely. My issue was this: I wanted a space for both the women and the men who have seen this type of behavior to tell their story, I needed it to be reputable so I didn’t look like I was making things up, and the people who gave their stories to my piece had to be protected. I struggled with how much information was too little or too much, whether I needed to focus more on reputability or safety. In the end, I came to a conclusion that defined my writing and the rest of my process: women will always be told they’re lying. Victims will never be believed by everyone, much as they may speak their truth. I had to put their safety first, and trust that people will believe the testimonies regardless of what they’re told about the speakers.
In the end, there were a lot of things that I wish I could’ve included that I couldn’t because it jeopardized the safety of my sources. For every story that’s happened to every woman on the force, there’s ten more that are incredibly personal and would give away the source in an instant to anyone who’d seen it happen. I think for some journalists, they’d err on the opposite side of me, and maybe that’s a mistake. But I stand by my decisions, and if nothing else they taught me more about myself.