UPTOWN — Every woman living in the city can tell a story about being sexually harassed.
That's the belief behind Uptown resident Kara Crutcher's Courage Campaign.
Crutcher, 24, is working with the CTA to produce advertisements to fight sexual harassment on city buses and trains and hopefully increase awareness, she said.
"Someone can see the sign and see a young girl getting harassed and think, 'Oh my god this person may not stand up for themselves right now, maybe I can help her out.'"
Mina Bloom says it's surprising the CTA doesn't already have similar ads:
Crutcher came up with the idea in August after a friend posted a photo of a train ad that said something like "please respect our female passengers by refraining from unwanted touching and staring," she said.
She wondered why the CTA didn't have similar ads, and began researching statistics on the issue before reaching out to the CTA.
After she got ahold of the CTA's ad agency, Titan Worldwide, she teamed up with local artists to come up with design ideas.
The next step, she said, is raising the necessary funds.
With the help of less than 10 people, including friends and people she's met on the train, Crutcher will be putting up fliers, releasing surveys, interviewing women on the street and asking for testimonials, all in an effort to raise money for the ads, she said.
Crutcher said she launched the campaign because she is sexually harassed, both on the CTA and on the street, every day as a twenty-something; it happens on her way to her full-time job as an admissions specialist at Kendall College and when she goes out on the weekends.
And it's been happening for years, she said.
At age 14, Crutcher was walking home from Francis W. Parker High School when a 20-year-old man started following her, eventually tried to ask her out and then, after she denied him, got on the same CTA bus as her.
"I was a kid," she said. "I didn't even know what getting picked up was."
Crutcher added: "I remember thinking, 'Oh my god, it’s my fault.' I remember telling my best friend, 'It’s because you did this hairstyle for me.' Now being where I am in my life and looking back on that and knowing that other girls are walking around feeling that way, that’s just unacceptable. It's not anyone’s fault except for the person who’s harassing you."
Just last week, a woman was groped at the Logan Square Blue Line station after a string of sexual attacks this summer. A man was also recently charged for sexually abusing three separate women on the Red Line.
According to CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski, the CTA has several measures in place to prevent sexual harassment including employee training, which is reinforced through routine instruction.
Unfortunately, Hosinski added, some incidents are not "easily observed," so they urge victims to always report harassment and provide as many details as possible.
Logan Square resident Heena Sharma, 25, said that she "definitely" thinks the Courage Campaign has the potential to bring positive change.
Sharma moved to Chicago from New York City just two months ago, and she's already heard from friends who say they've been victims of sexual harassment.
"It's much worse here ... the cat-calling, the uncomfortable stares," Sharma said. "But in every city, [the ads] could help."
While she hasn't been a victim herself, she said the ads funded by the Courage Campaign would "change attitudes."
Similarly, Nicole Cossu, 26, said that ads would help remind women to be more careful.
Cossu takes the Blue Line every day to go to work and school. She, too, lived in New York City before relocating to Chicago six months ago.
"Living in Chicago, you can't be afford to be afraid," said Cossu, adding that she witnesses "inappropriate closeness" on the CTA often.
Others, like South Side resident Monica Fletcher, 22, don't think the ads will change much.
"I don't think it will do any good," Fletcher said while waiting for the Chicago bus at State Street. "If they're a sick person, they're just a sick person."
Crutcher's campaign isn't the first effort of its kind designed to help fight sexual harassment on city streets.
One of many chapters around the world, Hollaback! Chicago coins itself as the "first forum for Chicagoans to have a dialogue about unwanted comments, inappropriate looks, groping and all other types of harassment."
By either directly posting to the website or using a smart phone, people can anonymously post stories, photos and even videos about their experiences being sexually harassed in Chicago.
Underneath each post is an "I got your back" button that readers can click on to give support.
Crutcher said she's reached out to organizers behind the international site for help with her own campaign, which she hopes is positive and all-inclusive above all else.
"The entire point is to encourage people to be courageous," Crutcher said. "We don't want to point fingers. It may seem silly ... something as small as a sign, but there are signs that tell you to please give up your seat for elderly people on the train, and people get up, you know?"
If you'd like to get involved, email Kara at email@example.com.
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