Courage Campaign aims to stop harassment on CTA

The Jackson Red Line ‘L’ stop (pictured above) is a key arrival and departure point for DePaul students and faculty at the university’s Loop Campus. According to an NBC 5 investigation earlier this year, the station recorded the most thefts of any platform in the system. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
The Jackson Red Line ‘L’ stop (pictured above) is a key arrival and departure point for DePaul students and faculty at the university’s Loop Campus. According to an NBC 5 investigation earlier this year, the station recorded the most thefts of any platform in the system. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

For most DePaul students, riding some form of public transit is a routine activity. With many commuters, as well as students who have classes in both the Loop and Lincoln Park campuses, it is part of the university culture. DePaul even provides students with a Chicago Transit Authority U-Pass. For many, however, experiencing harassment on public transit has also become a routine thing.

According to a 2014 study by the website Stop Street Harassment,

65 percent of American women in the United States have experienced street harassment, as well as 25 percent of men.

Chicago native Kara Crutcher is one of the many victims of harassment on the CTA. She had her first encounter with harassment at age 14, and since then she said she has “become numb to it.”

“I started thinking it is just another day in the life of living in a city, and that is the sad part, because it is not something that should be the standard,” she said. “It is not a world we should have to face.”

A combination of seeing her friend’s Instagram post of a sexual harassment bus ad, her love for transit culture, and her personal experiences with harassment in the city, specifically the CTA, led Crutcher to take a stand on the issue. She created the Courage Campaign, an organization intended to raise money for CTA ads against harassment.

Crutcher’s campaign aims to end harassment that many DePaul students may be familiar with. Ranging from physical harassment to verbal harassment, many have stories to tell.

Chanel Lewis is a junior at DePaul who rides the CTA frequently. The most common harassment she experienced is racial harassment.

“People, specifically men, will make some racial epithet toward me sexually and then tug on my hair, or try to touch my butt,” Lewis said.

Asked if anyone ever steps in to help, Lewis said most people try to stay out of the situation.

“People try to mind their business as much as possible. In general, someone may share an ‘Oh-no-that-sucks’ look with me, but no one has ever intervened,” she said.

When talking to her friends about these issues, Lewis said it, “became a weird ‘what-has-happened-to-you-today-on-the-CTA’ conversation, especially on the Red Line and Blue Line during particular hours,” she said.

Lewis said more action must be taken toward these issues.

“There has to be some sort of system set up for anyone who feels sexually harassed on public transit,” Lewis said. “Part of it has to do with the attitude we have toward people in public, and how people would respond to that situation.”

Sophomore Rebecca McDonald is another DePaul student who has been sexually harassed. On her way back from seeing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with her friends last Halloween, a male passenger touched her butt on the CTA.

“We were on this overly packed CTA, and all of a sudden, I felt someone grabbing my butt,” McDonald said. “I held onto my guy friend, who switched spots with me.

“I was 98 percent sure that he was touching my butt, but there is always that two percent chance he was hitting into me because the train was so crowded,” she said.

McDonald said she is not the only DePaul student who has had this experience.

“I am sure a majority of DePaul students have been in a situation on the CTA where someone made them feel uncomfortable,” McDonald said.

She has methods for dealing with sexual harassment.

“I try and walk past the harassers, keep my head up, and do not bring attention to it, because that is what they want,” she said.

Juniors Ellen Goese and Laura Springman also had uncomfortable CTA experiences. Last spring, Goese was standing at the Wellington Brown Line ‘L’ platform when a man exposed himself and began masturbating while looking at her.

“I didn’t want to take the ‘L’ after class and get back on it,” she said. “It really shook me up.”

In Springman’s case, she was listening to her headphones on the ‘L’ when a male passenger tried getting her attention by shouting “Hey, cutie” and other similar terms.

“I don’t owe him any of my time or any information, so I did not say anything,” Springman said.

When she ignored him, he proceeded to call her profane names. Springman said her friend even wears a ring on her finger during train rides to make it look like she is married, so guys will not talk to her.

Stories like these are part of the reason Crutcher is working on the Courage Campaign. Her unique definition of street harassment is applicable to all forms of harassment.

“Telling someone one thing is sexual harassment and one thing isn’t is so complicated. The root of all of it is it is objectification and a feeling of humiliation,” Crutcher said. “That is what street harassment is to me. The campaign encourages forming a communal effort to feel safe.”

Crutcher shared her ways of dealing with sexual harassment on the streets.

“One thing that I find that I do frequently when I am walking on the street and a group of men are staring at me, I won’t look at them head on, nor straight where I am going, I will look anywhere but this group of people staring at me. It makes such a huge difference to keep your head up,” she said.

Ironically, on her way to her meeting for the Courage Campaign this week, she experienced sexual harassment. But last time, she handled it differently.

“I am doing this campaign; I have to do this right,” Crutcher said as she looked forward and kept her head up. “Is there some reason everyone is staring at me?”