The grainy security camera footage is sickening to watch: A man, later identified as an off-duty Chicago police officer, punching and kicking a young woman because she refused to serve him another drink. Perhaps just as disturbing was the image of another man in the bar, doing nothing as the woman was pummeled by someone twice her size.
The outcry was swift and loud once that beating, caught on tape, became public. But what about the thousands of other unseen women who suffer with violence every single day? What will it take to help them?
The Chicago Foundation for Women wants to answer that question with its new statewide public awareness initiative, "What Will It Take? Building the Safest State for All Women and Girls." The yearlong campaign carries the message that violence against women has many forms—child abuse, bullying, stalking, street harassment, sexual assault, domestic abuse—and stopping it begins at home, in the workplace and in the community.
"We have to create a sense of urgency," says Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the foundation. "We have to start pointing out that it is not normal for boys to act violently, for music and games to be advocate killing people, for girls to be sexualized in the media. It is not normal and it is not acceptable."
The initiative is funded in part by $2 million from the state of Illinois, half of which the foundation gave in grants to organizations across the state. Other funding comes from corporations and foundations, including Allstate, the Lakshmi Foundation and Macy’s. In addition, a coalition of policy makers, anti-violence experts, abuse survivors and other advocates have joined together as the Safe State Council to assist the campaign.
Last fall, the Chicago Foundation for Women began holding statewide meetings to pose the question, "What will it take to make Illinois the safest state for women and girls?" Some of those answers evolved into a media campaign under way in Chicago, Peoria, Rockford, Champaign and Springfield, as well as on 10 college campuses.
"This campaign can be a very significant public awareness vehicle for getting adults to think about examining first their own relationships with women and girls and not only making adjustments, but really fortifying the strength of girls’ self-esteem and their presence in the world," says Anne Parry, a member of the Safe State Council and director of the Office of Violence Prevention for the Chicago Department of Public Health. "It could potentially create a statewide dialogue as to how we can ensure the safety of girls and women."
• The public service announcements and other campaign materials are available at whatwillittake.org. There is a message board where users can post their experiences and suggest potential solutions.
Violence against women and girls
• One in three women is physically or sexually assaulted sometime in her life.
• More than three women are killed each day by an intimate partner.
• An abusive husband or partner will hit a woman an average of 35 times before police are notified for the first time.
• Batters are likely to become more physically abusive when a woman is pregnant.
• About 1 million women 18 and older say they have been stalked, yet in only 10 percent of those cases have women felt safe enough to call police.
• One in five high school girls reported being physically or sexually abused by a date.
• More than 95,000 Illinois children were reported as abused in the 2006 fiscal year. Almost 9,000 reports of child sexual abuse were reported.
Source: Chicago Foundation for Women
Jacqui Podzius Cook is a magazine editor who lives in Oak Lawn with her husband and four children.