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Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007 05:48 am

What it takes

Illinois safety campaign dissolves boundaries

Untitled Document A yearlong statewide program has forged new connections among organizations working on various aspects of violence against women. “What Will It Take? Building the Safest State for All Women and Girls,” headed by the Chicago Foundation for Women, provided $1 million in grants to nonprofits. The Illinois state government and the federal government each contributed $1 million to the anti-violence campaign. The program has been collecting ideas for a report, which was released Tuesday. The report, containing 100 action items, highlights the need to take stalking more seriously as an indicator of future violence, to get more men to see violence prevention as their issue, and to treat violence as a national epidemic and a public-health crisis. “The whole process expanded people’s context for what violence is,” says Rachel Durchslag. “People will think of hitting or rape as violence against women, but they might not think of someone in the sex trade [as] being a victim of violence or how media images of thinness and quote-unquote ‘beauty’ influence us to commit violence against ourselves. This process brought together people who are trying to fight different kinds of violence.”
Durchslag should know. Last year she founded a grassroots organization focused on eliminating the sex trade in Chicago — but was soon struggling to locate data on the demand side of the problem. She got a $30,000 research grant from the statewide initiative that allowed her to join an international study about the demand side of prostitution, and from there she put together an interview team — including three survivors of prostitution — who questioned more than 100 men in the Chicago area about their attitudes and practices on the subject. While her organization, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, compiles its survey findings it is also teaming up with the local Christian Community Health Fellowship’s Footprints program to develop a series of “john schools” for men caught soliciting prostitutes. Chicago judges refer the arrested men to the program, which is held twice a month. “There’s historically been a lot of focus on prevention but not much on demand elimination,” Durchslag says. “We give women resources so they don’t end up in prostitution, but we also want to educate men and get them involved.”
 The initial goal of “What Will It Take?” was to reach 4 million people in Illinois through a series of events around the state. Susy Schultz, director of advocacy for the Chicago Foundation for Women, says the campaign ultimately reached more than 10 times that number since its September 2006 kickoff.
From March to June there were eight “What Will It Take?” town-hall-style forums, for which guest speakers were brought to specific communities to talk about a range of issues. Another 40 community meetings were held around the state, grants were distributed statewide, and an online forum for all participants was set up through the foundation’s Web site.
As part of its yearlong effort, the Chicago Foundation for Women also sponsored a men’s initiative, designed to get men thinking about their role in stopping violence and enlisting them as allies. The foundation held speaker training for men, who then spoke to Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, and other community groups around the state. Male speakers also went to high schools to talk with teens and hosted events in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, Springfield, and other areas. Feedback from these and other events are included in the Sept. 11 report, which also looks at how the organizations brought together under this initiative have cooperated and what they plan for the future. “For me, this initiative was an opportunity to work with some of the best people in the field and just not the usual suspects,” Durchslag says. “I don’t know if I’d ever have gotten to meet with some of these organizations if they hadn’t been at the same table.”
     
For more information, go to www.whatwillittake.org.
Jeff Fleischer is a Chicago-based journalist who has written for Mother Jones, The New Republic, and Womensenews.com.

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