MAN SAYS HE WAS GRABBED AND GROPED BY DRUNKEN BUSINESSMEN
(Caution to readers: Language is strong in this article, but you’ve read worse).
It happened in Juneau and led to the resignation of two legislators this winter. Now, sexual harassment and assault allegations have hit the top Anchorage business trade group.
Joseph Lurtsema, who runs a social media and marketing company out of midtown Anchorage, hoped to make new business acquaintances and friends during the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce’s “Kentucky Derby” train ride, a day of networking and fellowship that turned into a bit of a groping nightmare for him and possibly others.
The train is a six-hour ride to Indian and back, and includes good food and an open bar. Activities include “casino and networking games, split the pot, a silent auction, karaoke and more!” Participants were encouraged to wear hats and Kentucky Derby attire. The Chamber even posted a Pinterest page for inspiration.
But some men attending the event were decidedly ungentlemanly.
Lurtsema posted his experience on Facebook the following day, but in a conversation with Must Read Alaska on Friday night, he indicated that his experience with the Chamber’s event was unpleasant: “There are predators among us,” he said, before deciding to go public .
During the ride, he said he was approached by an inebriated man in his mid-20s who grabbed Lurtsema by the crotch and said, “You are so sexy, I want to touch you all over!”
Lurtsema told him to back off and the man went to the other side of the train car.
The second incident occurred while he was on the phone talking to one of his clients. Another man, also in his 20s, slapped his butt and grabbed ahis private parts. The man winked and “strutted confidently away, leaving me in shock and disgust. What was going on here?”
Was Lurtsema trapped on a train with a bunch of Harvey Weinsteins? A woman responded on Facebook that she, too, was grabbed in the butt while on the train ride.
“I also got a serious ass-grabbing on the train yesterday-and maybe here is the sad difference between men and women, I’m so immune to it by now, that after I looked up and couldn’t identify which of the people passing by me had done it, I remarked on it to the women I was talking to and moved on. I didn’t think about it again, or even consider reporting it. For those that you can identify:please pursue. I’ve had nothing but amazing interactions with everyone at the Chamber, and not a one of them would condone any of this behavior, and there was security there for our benefit. Don’t let a few drunken idiots on one afternoon ruin your chances of business success: I never do,” one woman wrote.
In the third incident Lurtsema recounted, a man aggressively flirted with him and commented on his butt, saying “I just want to slap it,” among other inappropriate comments. The man turned to a woman and convinced her to pinch him on the bottom.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. He was flirting and saying other inappropriate things to & about other men at the event,” Lurtsema wrote.
As the ride came to an end, he says people were getting more and more inebriated and he recalls five men and two women commenting on the size of his butt, his looks, and one man asked him how large his penis is, (although he used a different term.)
“I am absolutely disappointed, violated, disgusted, and shocked that I was molested multiple times at a professional Anchorage Chamber of Commerce event. I spent over $1,000 to become a member of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, which gave me these tickets to the Chamber Train event,” he wrote.
When reached, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President Bruce Bustamante said he was not ready to comment, but he had referred Lurtsema to the police and to the Alaska Railroad, which handled security for the event.
“I was raised to be a Warrior, not a victim,” Lurtsema wrote. “I want to bring Sexual Assault Awareness to the Alaska Business Community. Alaska is the #1 crime & sexual assault State per capita in the United States. We hear it all the time but when it happens to you, it gives you a certain perspective. I’m sure there are many others in our community who have experienced this kind of behavior. If this is happening to me, it’s happening to other Men, Women, and Children throughout our community. Sexual Assault is happening all over Anchorage, and it’s one of the most personal forms of pain, betrayal, and eternal discomfort one can experience. I’ve been to dive bars, clubs, and other events where the likelihood of a situation like this would be substantially higher. I thought participating at the most Popular Anchorage Chamber of Commerce event would place me in the safest area in Alaska. I was wrong, it was dangerous.”
Lurtsema said he emailed Bustamante and received a full-some response that said he would investigate the matter.
“I want to tag other Ambassadors & staff of the Chamber so they are completely aware of what’s happening in their backyard so we, as a community, can prevent these types of incidents from ever happening again. Thank you for reading, and please support those who have experienced Sexual Assault. I’m sure there are others out there without a voice. Let’s be their voice. God bless,” Lurtsema wrote.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB CAR
Everyone on a party train has a different idea of what constitutes fun. While what Lurtsema experienced will not be unfamiliar to women in Anchorage, where sexual assault is a well-documented occurrence, his account is a reminder that men, too, can be victims of harassment and sexual assault. Rarely do they talk about it because there is a stigma when it comes to being sexualized and bullied by other men.
But Lurtsema said if he doesn’t speak out, he would be condoning the behavior, and he thinks Anchorage deserves better.
Reporting sexual harassment can come at a cost. In one study, 75 percent of women who reported sexual harassment said they experienced retaliation.
Lurtsema said he considered the price he might have to pay by speaking out. He’s willing to pay it.
A few weeks ago, Lurtsema said he was going to run for Anchorage Assembly and today he said those plans have not changed.