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In What Context May I Appropriately Talk About Your Butt and Underwear?

Former Brown County deputy sheriff Ross Erickson admitted not only sexual harassment but also utter cluelessness in testimony in Laura Zylstra Kaiser’s civil rights trial yesterday here in Aberdeen:

Ross Erickson, who used to work as a deputy and was a member of the local drug task with Kaiser, took responsibility for making the inappropriate comments.

He said he couldn’t remember the exact situations and statements he made, but admitted he made comments about her butt and underwear. He said he didn’t know the comments bothered Kaiser and that they were taken out of context [Shannon Marvel, “Deputy Admits to Making Comments About DCI Agent’s Butt, Underwear,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.12.15].

Notes to dudes:

  1. References to a co-worker’s butt and underwear will bother your co-worker.
  2. There is no normal context that will make your comments about a co-worker’s butt and underwear appropriate.
  3. The only contexts that might excuse butt-comments require exercises in crudity and comedy: We both slipped and fell on the ice. She fell on top of me, and I exclaimed, “Ow! Get your butt off my face!”
  4. Taking responsibility for making inappropriate comments does not usually include feigning ignorance and appealing to some impossible context. Taking responsibility means saying, “I should not have said those things. I’m sorry.” Period.

Along with squishing away from his butt/underwear comments, Erickson joined the defendants’ efforts to portray Kaiser as an emotional troublemaker:

“When I confronted her about it she got really emotional. She said she said all that to (Black) to see if she could trust him,” Erickson testified.

…Erickson testified Thursday that Kaiser said she told Black about false incidents of sexual harassment as a “trust test” [Marvel, 2017.12.15].

But Ross, you just said the incident of sexual harassment in question was not false. You just said it happened.

Just to ice the cake, Marvel reports that former Brown County state’s attorney Kimberly Dorsett took the stand and called Kaiser a “cancer” who created a toxic work environment in the sheriff’s office.

Dorsett’s comment establishes a severe malice toward Kaiser among other law enforcement officials. Erickson’s testimony establishes that Kaiser had legitimate grounds to complain about sexual harassment. I don’t know how the jury will respond when it gets the case today, but those two statements alone, along with the fact Kaiser’s work evaluations flipped from glowing to negative right after that October 2011 incident, suggest pretty strongly that Kaiser’s complaint of job discrimination is legit and that she should win her lawsuit.


  1. Kristi 2017-12-15 10:59

    There’s always the Key and Peele exception: “We don’t say booty unless we’re talking about gold / we don’t look at chests unless there treasure holds” (

    (Sorry, it’s either find ways to laugh or figure out a way to build a habitat on the moon so we don’t have to live on this planet anymore.)

  2. David Newquist 2017-12-15 11:05

    Recall that Dorsett was the DA who fired Brandon Taliaferro in the Mette child abuse case, while she was on a conflicting contract with the DSS which was under investigation for its handling of the case, and under whose auspices Taliaferro was indicted under charges that the judge threw out of court–with comments about the hostile environment in the DA’s office. Innocence and justice projects have the Brown County DA’s office and the county’s law enforcement and justice system on a watch list. The people involved in Ms. Kaiser’s suit are the same ones who were exposed in the Taliaferro-Schwab case when the judge threw it out. It is incredible that an attorney would haul them into court to testify against Ms. Kaiser. The fact that they are still on the loose maligning people says much about the causes of corruption that pervades South Dakota.

  3. mike from iowa 2017-12-15 11:25

    Is it possible that severe corruption is inbred in South Dakota. Seems like nearly all in power have it to some greater of lesser degree.

  4. Rorschach 2017-12-15 11:35

    It sounds to me like these people are helping Ms. Kaiser make her case to the jury.

  5. mike from iowa 2017-12-15 12:23

    May my boot excort your butt to the curb?

  6. Richard Schriever 2017-12-15 15:54

    Is it possible that much like men’s lack of acceptance of women’s rights to publicly exhibit their sexuality prior to the “women’s liberation” movement of the ’60’s women are showing a lack of ACCEPTANCE OF MEN’S SEXUALITY now-a-days?

    PS – I fully expect to be publicly crucified ands to never again be someone to be considered for either private or public employment for even asking the question.

  7. Eve Fisher 2017-12-15 16:59

    Here’s an idea, heterosexual he-men – don’t say anything to a woman that would offend you / weird you out / disturb / frighten you if a gay man said it to you.

  8. Porter Lansing 2017-12-15 18:22

    No, Richard. If you’re being serious, that’s not possible. Just like it’s not possible for white males to be discriminated against, minority males to be racist towards Anglos and political correctness to be an excuse for boorish behavior. When you have the power you can say and do things that affect minorities lives but the converse can’t happen.

  9. Porter Lansing 2017-12-15 18:28

    Hear, hear Ms. Fisher. ✯✯✯✯✯

  10. John 2017-12-15 19:59

    Cory, Dave, others: thank you for your valued reporting and observations. I’m challenged and dismayed processing the damaging information routinely flowing from right-wingnuts entrenched in my second hometown. Ms, Kaiser was a trusted, valued, colleague and classmate – the furthest person from ‘being a cancer’ on any formal or informal organization. May she prevail.

  11. Porter Lansing 2017-12-15 20:15

    Winning a jury trial against cops is hard, anywhere. Especially in SoDak where teachers, preachers and cops automatically are highly respected before they’ve earned it. In a city, it’s not the case. Too many teachers, preachers and cops are and have gone bad. Their stories of criminal and bad behavior have been on the news and they’re not given automatic anything. I’d suspect the number of bad actors among South Dakota’s teachers, preachers and cops is of an equal percentage to a city or anywhere, really.

  12. David Newquist 2017-12-15 21:53

    Kaiser awarded $1.2 million in damages from DCI, former agent

  13. Robin Friday 2017-12-15 23:43

    Are these guys 7th graders, or what? yes, I know we’re only talking about one. Nevertheless, I thought we were better than that. Or at least, not totally clueless.

  14. Dana P 2017-12-16 08:36

    wow, just wow. I’m so glad that the jury saw this for what it is/was.

    Come on fellas (most present company excluded), this isn’t hard. How and on what planet would you think this is an “ok” thing to do? Boggles the mind.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-12-16 10:44

    John, I agree: justice for Laura takes precedence over any other consideration here.

    But on the political side, remember: her victory in this lawsuit may help her wingnut husband become Brown County’s next sheriff. One may argue that Dan’s wingnuttery will do less damage in the sheriff’s office than it does in Pierre.

  16. Richard Schriever 2017-12-16 15:33

    Porter and Eve – obviously you’ve never been the only male in a business setting – OR a home full of women, nor a white male living in a . Power is a relative – not absolute thing. To assume that it is always and exclusively men – or white men who have power seems to me to be a tacit submission to exactly that view of the world – in which it is always white men who hold the reins.

  17. Richard Schriever 2017-12-16 15:35

    Missing sentence part “nor a white male living in a non-white male dominated culture”.

    Cultural views are always subject to individual experiential context.

  18. mike from iowa 2017-12-16 15:45

    In What Context May I Appropriately Talk About Your Butt and Underwear?

    When you pry them from Drumpf’s, Moore’s, Gingrich’s, Delay’s, Livingston, Hastert’s, Hyde’s, Hitler Weasel Bush’s, et al’s cold dead fingers.

    Public Service Announcement from mfi

  19. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-12-17 08:13

    Richard, I agree with your observation to the extent that power is more central to sexual harassment than sex and that men and women alike are tempted to abuse to abuse their power.

    However, the prevalent problem in American society appears to be that men assume they have the power to behave as Deputy Erickson did. Deputy Erickson didn’t even have power: he was an equal with LZK on the drug task force. Yet he took crude liberties that LZK didn’t, and his male coworkers and superiors protected him.

    Maybe Richard’s comment makes the argument for absolute gender parity in hiring in every workplace. Arrange seating in every office and the rungs on every order of succession boy-girl-boy-girl.

  20. Richard Schriever 2017-12-17 10:57

    Thanks Corey – but my comments really were more intended to invoke a spirit of self-examination around enabling behaviors and cultural context- vs. a knee-jerk stereotyping that is really a larger problem – IMO. I don’t adhere to the boy/girl alternating rungs either. I am more of a “best fit” (knowledge/skills/abilities) kind of person.

    And of course – we must acknowledge that it is not strictly white MEN that define gender roles – or any other cultural roles. Women also define those roles – and are both genders EQUALLY engaged – as are all races/ages/professions, etc. in defining the cultural parameters. Putting everything in terms of “it’s a white man’s world” – passively makes it so. Our culture is OURS together – we all have influence – at all times and places.

    Taking the lazy/easy way (assuming relationship roles on stereotypes) is inherently a passive low-power/low-input status for WHOMEVER does it.

  21. Eve Fisher 2017-12-17 13:04

    Okay, Richard, try this:
    For about 5,000 years, one of the major perks of having power has been the ability to do / say anything they want with their subordinates, whether male or female. Those with power have usually been men, however, there have also been a few women, like Empress Wu and Catherine the Great. But, since most people at the top of the pole for most of history were men, we shouldn’t be surprised, when subordinates finally find the voice to call them out, first how many powerful people ARE called out, and secondly, how many of them are men. But two important points, both true, but only one of them obvious:
    (1) First, the obvious: Celebrities are being fired left and right; politicians aren’t. In fact, they’re being protected, and in some cases, being lauded for being “harassed”. This proves what anyone who’s ever lived in Hollywood (as I have) can tell you: celebrity is fleeting, and its power is limited. Once you’re no longer profitable, you’re dead. But we have apparently devised a system in which political power is not linked to profitability of any kind, but to something else, and one that is carefully defended by fellow politicians and followers with a vehemence that I’ve only seen before in religious cults.
    (2) Secondly, the unobvious, but long-proven truth: While the current talk is all about sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and rape, none of these are expressions of sexual desire, they’re an expression of a desire for POWER, for power over someone subordinate to them. And sometimes absolute power, as in the case of serial rapists who murder their victim. This is why heterosexual men rape other men in prison – to make the rapist the top dog, and everyone else obedient and submissive. When then-candidate Donald Trump said “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the p***y”, he was letting everyone who heard it know how powerful he was, not how much he desired any individual woman. Again, it’s not a matter of attraction or desire, it’s about power, and that’s why it is deeply offensive when other people try to defend the offender by saying, “Well, who’d want to rape her?” Remember that the Boston Strangler raped old women. It’s also why, in predominantly or all-male work places, men will call other men “bitch”, “pussy”, etc., and even describe / mimic sexual acts over their subordinates, in order to prove their dominance.
    So we need to work on redetermining the perks of power, in any field.
    We especially need to figure out how to limit politicians’ ability to simply deny wrongdoing and/or defy any attempt to censure, punish, or stop them.
    We need to recognize that the predatory habits of the powerful, like those of any other abuser, are not dependent on any behavior or appearance of the victim. It’s nothing personal: They treat everyone the same way. (Which is another reason why so many people are coming forward in so many cases – I repeat: they literally treat everyone the same way.)
    So, that’s my nondiscriminatory exposition of why so many men are getting called out for sexual harassment today.

  22. grudznick 2017-12-17 13:44

    Ms. Fisher, stop being sexist. Gay men should not say those things either.

  23. Porter Lansing 2017-12-17 19:53

    Excellent, Eve Fisher. Very intuitive and concise explanation.

  24. Ryan 2017-12-18 08:55

    I promise not to go on any of my long tirades, but I agree with Richard Schriever 100%. It is easy and feels good to sit back and say that white men are the problem because it is a white man’s world. However, that does nothing whatsoever to make society better. If you want to just feel good about pointing at an obvious problem and saying, “That’s a problem,” without trying to fix it, good for you. If we want to fix the problem, we have to be practical about our approach.
    Call me an idealist, but results matter more than feelings. Richard Schriever seems to be suggesting what I have suggested on this topic several times – every person, whether white, black, male, female, or whoever, takes an equal part in making our “culture” what it is. Nothing will ever get better until everyone who considers themselves a “good person” refuses to sit quietly while the world falls into chaos around them.

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