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Women Push CTA For Anti-Sexual Harassment Ads, But Agency Won't Commit

By Mina Bloom | July 17, 2015 8:30am
 One of Crutcher's design mockups.
One of Crutcher's design mockups.
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Courtesy/Kara Crutcher

WEST LOOP — Perhaps you've noticed the 13 new advertisements on CTA trains and buses that take aim at loud cell phone-talkers, litterbugs and wannabe train DJs — behavior for which the CTA said it has received an "overwhelming" amount of complaints.

None of them address sexual harassment.

While the CTA couldn't provide statistics on incidents of harassment on public transit, last year, there were four reported incidents of sexual assault on the CTA, according to spokeswoman Tammy Chase. In 2013, there were 18 reported incidents of public indecency on the CTA. The latest figures were not immediately available.

The lack of public signs discouraging sexual harassment on the CTA is why Uptown resident Kara Crutcher launched the Courage Campaign last year, to raise the money for new CTA ads, raise awareness and encourage women to speak up — but now, she's come up against an unexpected hurdle.

 (from l.) Kara Crutcher and Jaime Schmitz at Wednesday's CTA board meeting.
(from l.) Kara Crutcher and Jaime Schmitz at Wednesday's CTA board meeting.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

CTA's ad agency, Titan Worldwide, has a rule requiring advertisements that fall under the "public service announcement" category must be posted by either a government entity or a registered nonprofit group, which Courage Campaign is not.

Crutcher vowed to push through the "huge setback," hoping her ads will receive a waiver from CTA officials, though she received mixed messages at a board meeting Wednesday at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St.

"I have no doubt that they care about the safety of their riders. I just think more can be done, and this is great vehicle to do so, and right now I can't move forward," Crutcher said.

At the meeting, Crutcher called the current lack of ads discouraging sexual harassment "inexcusable" in a big city like Chicago, especially considering other cities like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Los Angeles already have them.

Back in 2009, the CTA did launch an ad campaign discouraging sexual harassment. But those ads, which read: "See something, say something," are mostly long gone.

"Because of my experiences and experiences of those that I care about, I cannot sit back and let this continue as it is. I want to urge the CTA to reconsider and change how they approach this very serious issue," Crutcher said at the meeting.

She added: "How are we supposed to feel when we are violated and people look the other way?"

Who Do The Ads Protect?

About 15 young girls, ranging in age from 14 to 17, from the program Girl World sat behind Crutcher during the presentation. Girl World was developed by Uptown-based youth agency Alternatives, Inc. to teach girls self-esteem and self-efficacy.

On behalf of the girls, Jaime Schmitz, a youth development specialist at Alternatives who works with the teenagers, shared some of their personal stories of being sexually harassed on the CTA.

"Once my sister and I were on the bus and as we were walking towards the back this man told me I was pretty. I said 'Thanks,' and I was on my way. The man continued to talk at us and said we should get off the bus to make love to him. He grabbed my sister and we had to fight him off," according to Schmitz.

Overall, reactions to the Courage Campaign's presentation seemed positive. After Crutcher's impassioned plea, Terry Peterson, chairman of the CTA board, told her to meet with the CTA's head of security to "get the ball rolling."

One female CTA board member interrupted the flurry of people leaving the hearing to tell Crutcher, the girls and Schmitz: "I know that was very difficult. I personally want to thank you."

The campaign has significant social capital as well: Crutcher went from having fewer than 10 supporters in October to nearly 900 Facebook group members. So far, the Courage Campaign has raised $2,000 toward production of the ads. Crutcher said Titan hasn't told her how much the ads would cost in total.

 After the board meeting, Kara Crutcher and Jaime Schmitz met privately with CTA officials.
After the board meeting, Kara Crutcher and Jaime Schmitz met privately with CTA officials.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

Reporting vs. Awareness

But when Crutcher and Schmitz met privately with CTA officials after the board meeting, Crutcher said she was worried because the conversation mostly revolved around how to report incidents of sexual harassment — and not around how to create the ads.

Schmitz agreed, saying she's afraid CTA will dismiss the ads (which are meant to be preventative) and focus the conversation on reporting incidents instead.

"I don't think people realize how hard it is for people to share a story like that. They're under the impression that when you're harassed it should be so easy to report. But a lot of the time it's re-traumatizing," Schmitz said.

Chase said that the number of reported incidents play a role in deciding what advertisement campaigns to pursue, but it's not the only factor. While there were few reported incidents in recent years, "any incident is one too many," she said, adding that CTA takes the topic very seriously. 

"We get information from a variety of places to decide how to prioritize campaigns," she said.

In addition to reported incidents, the CTA takes social media responses into account, as well as trends in passenger behavior, Chase said.

She pointed to 2013, when the CTA launched a rail safety campaign after noticing an uptick of reported incidents of people falling onto the tracks. 

So, if more people reported sexual harassment, would it be easier for Crutcher to get her ads up?

The answer to that question is unclear. However, Chase, as well as other CTA officials, continue to stress the importance of reporting incidents.

"We are looking to update what we're doing in terms of educating the public on sexual harassment. This has been on our radar," she said, adding that the feedback is "really important"

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