Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a response from the CTA.
CHICAGO — An ad for pepper spray suggesting it to be "the one thing on your keychain that can make a grown man cry" has offended some commuters and an activist who lost a battle to get her anti-harassment ads cleared for display in CTA "L" trains.
While riding the CTA Blue Line on Tuesday, Jessica White, a Logan Square resident, spotted the ad for Sabre pepper spray.
White said she was "struck by the casual way the ad seemed to make light of violence against women, by not only cracking a joke about making 'grown men' cry, but also implying I would be interested in a powder blue keychain attachment as a form of necessary self defense.
"Considering how many assaults occur on and around CTA property, I would think the CTA wouldn't post ads reminding women not only how dangerous it is to use their services, but also that they're on their own when it comes to personal safety," White said.
On Wednesday, Sabre's owner David Nance emphasized that although Sabre's ads bear a coupon code of "CTA15," the ads were paid for by Sabre and are "completely independent of the CTA."
Nance said the CTA itself inspired the ads because there are two workers in a Chicago-based office for the Fenton, Mo.-based Sabre who commute to work on the CTA and got the idea of advertising on the inside of the railcars.
Kara Crutcher, an Uptown resident whose Courage Campaign tried to raise money to pay for ads to discourage harassment on public transit, said she is "very disappointed" to hear about an ad that makes light of having to use pepper spray.
"Nothing about a person, male or female, carrying mace as a form of protection in public spaces is comical," Crutcher added. "I'd much rather see an ad that aims to move us past the existence of violence in public spaces, not an ad joking about mace sales, which is counterproductive to the goals of the 'Courage Campaign: CTA' and functions solely as a Band-Aid for the greater issue at hand."
Eventually, Crutcher said, the CTA did introduce anti-harassment ads, but claimed it did not consult the Courage Campaign on any of the ad creations.
Tammy Chase, a CTA spokeswoman said criminal sexual assaults "are extremely rare," adding "there were two reported incidents of criminal sexual assaults on our bus and rail system in 2014 –one in every 257 million rides."
The ad met CTA’s advertising guidelines, which prohibit ads that are untruthful, misleading, disparage or ridicule people based on race, color, sex, age, religion, disability, marital status, as well as political and public issue advertisements and mature content, said Chase.
"In this case, the ads regarding the pepper spray were reviewed and determined to not be in violation of our policy. Bottom line: If an ad fits our guidelines, we accept it and if it doesn’t, we don’t," she said.
Chase added they've received no complaints about the ad. Furthermore, she also said that the CTA's "If It's Unwanted, It's Harrassment" public service campaign was developed with input from a co-developer associated with Crutcher's group.
Nance said "making grown men cry" is a tagline he created 15 years ago for a trade show event.
"We regret any offense taken at the CTA ads using our 'making grown men cry' tagline, and would like to note that this campaign is coming to a close. We take our customers’ feedback very seriously and will reconsider this ad in light of these concerns," Nance said.
Nance said the current ad campaign, which also includes a second ad with the tagline, "a little heat can go a long way," is a two-month trial that started in December and is his company's first time placing ads on public transportation. Sabre was founded in 1975 by Nance's late father.
"We wanted to create a creative way to create a picture of what the product can do. Women are our primary consumers. It's about thinking about ways to protect oneself against an attacker," Nance said.
Nance declined to say how many sales Sabre has gotten from orders placed with the "CTA15" coupon code but said the trial is "absolutely going well" and might be expanded to public transit in other cities.
"All good ads cause you to stop, read and think about the product. The ad is not meant to alienate the majority of our end users who are female from all walks of life. As long as you are over 18, this allows you to protect yourself at a safe distance," Nance said.
Rachel Colias, a Logan Square resident and roller derby athlete, said she's been harassed or put in otherwise uncomfortable — even scary — situations on the CTA and found the ad to be frustrating.
"This is problematic because we're basically admitting harassment is such a prevalent issue that women have to find ways to incorporate protection into their daily lives by coming in colors that match their ... outfits," Colias said.
In one case, Colias said she'd been on her way home taking the Brown Line when a male passenger fixated a "gaze" directed at her before following her as she got off at her exit.
On another occasion, Colias said she was taking the Blue Line back to her dorm one night when she found herself in a train car alone with two other men she did not know.
She said she could see and overhear the men pointing at and talking about her, prompting her to move to another side of the car. They, too, got up and moved closer to her, she said, causing her to purposely skip her stop for another, more crowded place.
"Just as the doors close I bolt[ed] up from my seat and slip through so they can't follow me," she said.
It's a reality Colias said she feels many women must reluctantly face, and is made light of in the pepper spray ad.
"Our culture puts the responsibility of preventing or ending sexual assault/harassment solely on women," Colias said. "Why are we getting ads like the one the woman posted, which is ... basically informing us we'll have to one day 'make a grown man cry,' and not ads that basically say, 'Hey men guess what, rape isn't OK.'"
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