Cheri Parish and Lynne Smith have worked together so much they can literally finish each other’s sentences.
It’s only fitting, then, that the two gladiators in the fight against sexual violence in Tooele County would be honored at the same time.
Parish and Smith were both honored by the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA) last month after being nominated individually.
Although Smith nominated Parish, a sexual assault nurse examiner at Mountain West Medical Center, neither woman knew she had been nominated for the Sexual Assault Awareness Month Awards until the honor was announced.
“I had nominated her without knowing I was nominated, too,” said Smith, the Tooele City Domestic Violence Advocate who was nominated by Tooele City Mayor Patrick Dunlavy. “They called me and told me that she had won, and then they said, ‘Oh, and you won, too.’”
Between four and nine nominees are chosen every year for the honor, which was designed to recognize people or organizations that demonstrate extraordinary commitment and service to victims of sexual violence.
This year, eight awards were given. The last time a Tooele County resident or professional was honored was in 2009, when Lt. Dan Chamberlain of the Grantsville City Police Department was given the award.
Leslie Miller, statewide Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) coordinator, said to her knowledge, no nominator has also been nominated themselves, and it is unusual for two people from the same small area to be nominated and win.
“[The award] gives our agency the opportunity to honor people who do such tremendous work in this field,” Miller said. “Tooele’s lucky having those two ladies, because they’re wonderful, especially being in a rural community. A lot of rural communities don’t have that — two wonderful people who are being proactive [against sexual assault.]”
For Parish and Smith’s part, the award is appreciated recognition of a job against a seemingly unstoppable tide of sexual assaults in their community.
“It shows me someone appreciates the work we do and recognizes that this is a hard job,” said Parish. “I feel humbled that someone decided to recognize that.”
Smith said Parish was easy to nominate because of the caring manner in which she approaches each victim.
“She’s there, she’s consistent. She’s always got her pleasant, accepting face on,” Smith said.
Parish said she has also been impressed with Smith’s dedication and strength on the job.
“If I’m tired and can’t move, I can call for backup. She can’t do that,” Parish said. “She builds a good rapport with [the victims].”
Both Parish and Smith noted their belief in the importance of acceptance and kindness to each victim.
“Lynne and I are often the first people who get the story,” said Parish. “Our reactions and actions to that victim really affects the course of their healing. If I can’t be kind to them and Lynne can’t be kind to them, they’re not going to be able to trust anyone else.”
“The crime that’s happened to them, it’s just so invasive and so degrading and so humiliating,” added Smith. “They just can’t talk to anyone about it. There’s a stigma around it.”
Although the fight against sexual assault can be discouraging at times, both women also said they were emboldened at the sight of seeing so many other professionals working to stem the tide of sexual violence at the UCASA meeting April 23.
“We saw all these people in different aspects of life — lawyers, advocates and others — coming together to work to stop sexual violence,” Parish said. “We’re not the only ones in the state working on this.”
She also believes more public discussion should take place about sexual violence — to the victims, that they have a right to say no and it is OK to tell someone when they feel afraid, and to the offenders, that no means no, and there are consequences to violating another person.
Smith said more efforts are being made also to prevent future rapes, not only to comfort a victim and help them get justice after a crime has occurred.
“We want people to be safe,” she said. “Rape victims are affected throughout their life. We’re hoping the focus [on sexual assault] helps at least one person not have to go through this.”