SALT LAKE CITY — A local tattoo shop is facing online backlash after a photo of one of the gifts from the company’s white elephant gift exchange was posted on the shop’s Instagram page and appeared to make light of rape.
The post, which appeared on the Instagram story of Salt City Tattoo owner David "Day" May Tuesday, showed a pair of black gloves, a pocket knife, a roll of duct tape and lubricant as part of a “rape kit” given by one of the tattoo shop’s employees. "Rape kit" is a common term for a collection of DNA taken for evidence in a sexual assault case.
Customers immediately reacted online, threatening to boycott the tattoo shop and leaving 1-star ratings on Google Reviews of the business, saying that the gift and the social media post of the gift made light of rape and sexual assault.
“As a woman, and just as a human being with actual empathy who understands that rape isn't a joke, this is absolutely appalling,” one person wrote. “I'll be encouraging anyone I know to avoid Salt City Tattoo and take their business elsewhere, to a shop that doesn't make a joke of a violent, horrific crime.”
“We have many talented tattoo artists who work in Salt Lake City. Why not support one that values your safety as a patron? I think that's a reasonable request,” wrote another.
May wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday saying the gift was a part of a white elephant gift exchange that had the theme of pranks or offensive gifts, but that the rape kit gift “went way too far.” He wrote in a later post that the employee who gave the gift had been fired.
"What this made me realize is the kind of damage and pain it causes people and the memories it brings back. Honestly, it has made me realize it's such a sensitive subject it shouldn't be joked about. It needs to be more widely spread that this kind of stuff isn't OK." — David May, Salt City Tattoo owner
May told KSL the comments he has received and the feedback from others been an eye-opening experience for himself, his business, as well as other tattoo shops in the community. Those businesses, including his, held meetings to discuss how it's a topic that shouldn't be taken lightly and how actions like what happened Tuesday won't be tolerated.
In addition to the verbal warning, May said he was working to add written rules as to what is allowed from employees.
"What this made me realize is the kind of damage and pain it causes people and the memories it brings back. Honestly, it has made me realize it's such a sensitive subject it shouldn't be joked about," he said. "It needs to be more widely spread that this kind of stuff isn't OK."
May added that he became aware nearly immediately that people had taken offense to the post. He said he spent most of Wednesday and Thursday speaking to various people and apologizing for the incident.
"It pretty much blew up instantly on the internet and, obviously, it's all very negative," May said. "I've been trying to reach out to people, I've been speaking to a lot of people in messages, personally. Some people have come to talk to us personally and talked to us on the phone."
A Facebook page for the tattoo shop appears to have been taken down.
"It is deeply disturbing that certain individuals take it upon themselves to normalize the perpetuation of rape culture, period; let alone at a work party." — Lesley Ann Shaw, local activist
While May has been apologizing for the incident, a group of Salt Lake art activists said they plan to protest outside of the tattoo shop Friday in response to the post.
"It is deeply disturbing that certain individuals take it upon themselves to normalize the perpetuation of rape culture, period; let alone at a work party,” said Lesley Ann Shaw, a local activist, in a news release sent by the group of activists.
Those protesting said they plan to small photo series showcasing sexual assault statistics outside of the tattoo shop.
May said he didn't know what to expect from the planned protest but said he hopes to host events in the future to give back to the community. The parlor had hosted a free tattoo event to raise awareness for sexual assault victims in 2016. That event raised about $4,000 to Utah's Rape Recovery Center.
Contributing: Brianna Bodily