Category Archives: Public policy

Reframing the Discourse on Teen Pregnancy: Resource List

Last September, we hosted (along with our allies) a two-day conference about violence in the lives of Chicago girls and young women.  As part of this event, Katy Groves & Chez Rumpf offered a workshop about our need to reframe the discourse on teen pregnancy.

Below is a description of their workshop:

Title: Baby College for All
Facilitators: Katy Groves (Youth Service Project) and Chez Rumpf (Center for Urban Research and Learning, Loyola University and Project NIA)

This workshop seeks to shift the framework around teen pregnancy and parenting. Pregnant and parenting teen girls often are pathologized as deviant young people who have become pregnant as a result of their personal deficiencies and problems. As such, services targeting these young women often attempt to “fix” or “reform” them through individual-level interventions. This workshop will engage participants in imagining ways to de-stigmatize teen pregnancy and parenting. Rather than frame teen pregnancy as a life-ending event that shoulders young women with insurmountable barriers, we will consider how to create structural supports for young mothers and how to cultivate a culture that places a high value on children.

Using a popular education approach, facilitators will lead participants through an activity to identify the current stigma and pathologizing discourse about teen pregnancy and to investigate the causes and consequences of this stigma. Through another activity, facilitators and participants will explore the historical evolution of this stigma. The workshop will close with a visioning exercise to develop concrete strategies to foster a sense of communal responsibility for children.

At the end of the workshop, participants will leave with:
• an understanding of the historical development of current discourses about teen pregnancy
• a critical assessment of these discourses
• ideas about how to create supportive environments for teen parents and their children

You can find an excellent resource list that they handed out to workshop participants here.

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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Public policy, Racism, Resources, Violence


Website is live! Check out the Taskforce report

We are excited to announce the launch of the Taskforce website and online report, with our recommendations on how to end violence against girls and young women in Chicago!  We invite you to visit the website at

Based on Roundtable discussions and surveys of dozens of organizations from across Chicago the website is a roadmap for the Taskforce’s action steps to end violence against girls and young women.  We’ll be meeting with public officials, issuing a Media Toolkit, and holding workshops around innovative approaches to end violence against girls — and we welcome you to get involved!

UNDERSTANDING VIOLENCE AGAINST GIRLS:  The website looks at 5 interrelated forms of violence against girls and young women:

For each, it offers concrete data about violence against girls, and identified issues & needs in the field.  The Taskforce is committed to highlighting great work happening across the city as well, and for each section you can read about organizations that are doing innovative work.

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS ENDORSED BY 40 ORGANIZATIONS: A highlight of the website is a set of recommendations for Chicago Public Schools, Cook County, and the State of Illinois, as well as organizations, foundations and researchers.  These recommendations have been endorsed by 40 organizations, representing youth groups, domestic violence and sexual assault groups, city and statewide agencies, policy organizations, and more.  They will serve as the basis for our work in the coming year, as we advocate to make Chicago safer for girls and young women.

TOOLS & RESOURCES:  The website offers tools & resources that groups can use in their own work.  Our resource page includes data sheets, reports and curricula, all free for downloading.  And our Occasional Papers series offers evaluations of innovative programs, and evaluation tools that organizations can access.

Our thanks to all of the volunteers who supported this work, and to the foundations that funded the development of the website: the Field Foundation of Illinois & the Verizon Foundation!


If you’re wondering what the mayoral candidates think about our recommendations….

For one thing, you won’t get an answer from Rahm Emanuel or Gery Chico, both of whom declined the invitation to participate in a candidate’s forum on violence against women, girls and LGBTQ youth.  The forum was held last night, co-sponsored by several of our partner organizations – Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, Rape Victim Advocates, Center on Halsted and CAASE – as well as the Chicago Foundation for Women.

Once you were able to get past the odd terms used for the LGBTQ community — Carol Moseley Braun referred to “nontraditional people”, and William “Dock” Walls insisted he was referring instead to panhandlers when he used the phrase “people with unusual lifestyles” — there was some useful information on how they feel about our recommendations to end violence against girls.


One of the Taskforce recommendations is for Chicago Public Schools, and the candidates were asked if they support it:

“The CPS policy on Dating Violence (08-0625-P02) currently does not set requirements for dating or sexual violence prevention education, but states that teachers “may” access lesson plans and partner with local anti-violence organizations. This should be changed to a requirement.”

So what did they have to say?

Miguel del Valle was the first to answer, and he said: “Absolutely.”  He added that the Board of Education needs to adopt the policy, and make sure the topics will be addressed in an “appropriate manner.”  Asked to define this further, he said he meant in the appropriate classes, and with a range of methods from counseling, to group discussions, to traditional classroom work.  He stressed the need for a mechanism to ensure discussion and student participation.

William “Dock” Walls agreed that this was necessary and said that he saw it as part of civics education.  Putting aside the more specific discussion of teen dating and sexual violence, he spoke at length about the need for civics education, to build stronger citizens who will “understand boundaries.”

Carol Moseley Braun felt the issue was “more complicated.”  She stressed that there is a lack of school nurses at Chicago Public Schools, with 1 nurse for every 725 students, and that remedying this should instead be the focus.  She referred to the “uphill battle” to get sex education in our schools, and felt that making education on these issues mandatory would be making it a “poison pill.”  Her answer instead is to restore the proper number of nurses at schools, and make the teen dating violence and sexual violence curriculum part of comprehensive sex ed – with an option for families to have their children “opt out” if they are opposed to the classes.

Patricia Van Pelt Watkins agreed with the recommendation, and spoke of the need for subjects to be interrelated.  “If you put the students in a room and give them a dose, they won’t absorb it.  It needs to be part of their lifestyle, so it sticks with them.”  She also stressed professional development and in service learning for staff.

Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico declined the invitation to attend the candidates’ forum to discuss these issues.


When the Taskforce discussed bullying in our Roundtable discussion, the organizations unanimously agreed that implementing anti-bullying legislation need to be tied to restorative justice practices.  Our goal is not to have young people kicked out of school or criminalized.  Our goal is safety.  Here’s our recommendation:

The Task force supports implementation of the Illinois Safe Schools Act and encourages the implementation of Restorative Justice practices to curtail bullying in schools, when appropriate, rather than criminalization of young people. We understand that the organizations that proposed and advocated for this Act share these values.

So I listened carefully when the candidates were asked how they would implement anti-bullying legislation in Chicago Public Schools.

Now, here the candidates split.  Miguel del Valle and Patricia Van Pelt Watkins both committed to the use of restorative justice practices.

On the other hand, Carol Moseley Braun and William “Dock” Walls both committed to using zero tolerance policies.  Here’s a quote from Walls:  “Zero tolerance with absolute certainty has to be the mandate of Chicago Public Schools.”

Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico declined the invitation to attend the candidates’ forum to discuss these issues.

The Taskforce does not endorse any particular candidate; we are committed to making sure the public is informed about these issues.  Wherever you stand on these issues, we urge you to go out and vote, and have your voice be heard!


Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Bullying, Public policy, Schools, Violence


Chicago youth tell incoming mayor: help us end violence

The Mikva Challenge, a well-known youth civic engagement organization in Chicago, does a great job of engaging young people in the democratic process.  On December, 12, Mikva held a youth convention, to set priorities for the city, in preparation for the upcoming mayoral election.  The youth identified violence against girls and young women as a priority, and they had clear ideas on what needed to be put in place in their schools.  The Chicago Sun Times reported that:

In votes taken at the convention, 37 percent of students said having high school classes on healthy relationships would help reduce the numbers of sexual assault cases.  Thirty-one percent want to hold support groups for survivors of sexual assault.

We couldn’t agree more with these suggestions.Dear Mayor

Now, on a new website,, we have a chance to hear directly from young people about their priorities with our next mayor.  It’s worth a visit to the site to hear directly from youth across Chicago about the issues they face, their ideas for a better future, and their policy priorities.

Here at the Taskforce, we were struck by just how many of the young people spoke about violence.  We’d like to draw your attention to two letters to the mayor, in particular:

First, Azairian Cartman of DuSable Leadership Academy urges the mayor to address issues of domestic violence:

Dear Mayor,

For your first 100 days elected as my very first mayor, I would LOVE to see you discuss the issue of domestic violence.  Families are being torn apart, women are dying and domestic violence is being brought down from one generation to the next.  You could have workshops in Chicago Public libraries for students, you could have workshops in college classes with adults and you could also have a video for the little people on domestic violence.

Your Chicago Resident,
Azairian Cartman

And in this powerful video, Lena from ACE Tech Charter Academy shares her views on homophobia, and how it contributes to depression, low self esteem and violence:

It is crucial that we hear from young people themselves about what should be done to make their lives safer.  Thanks to the Mikva Challenge and the youth who have led this effort for sharing their work with us!

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Posted by on January 5, 2011 in Public policy, Youth voices


New report shows impact of state budget cuts on girls & young women Center for Tax & Budget Accountability has just released a report showing how Illinois’ budget cuts have disproportionately affected women and youth.   Gender Disparity in Human Services sets out clear information on cutbacks in domestic violence services, sexual assault services, services to teen parents, youth services, family planning services and homeless services.  Those of us working  in the field will recognize in the statistics facts that we are all too aware of.  For example, the impact on sexual assault services:

…due to the state’s significant revenue shortfall, the General Fund appropriations for DHS sexual assault services will be 18% less in FY2011 than a mere two years ago, in FY2009. This will make it impossible for Illinois to maintain existing levels of support or to meet the needs of sexually abused women and their families.

And the impact on domestic violence services:

Viewed over time, it is clear that Illinois has increasingly moved away from funding services targeted to victims of domestic violence…..[I]n both nominal and inflation adjusted dollars, Illinois funding of services for victims of domestic violence has declined precipitously.

And the impact on teen parent services:

… FY2011 appropriations for programs designed to serve teen mothers are over 20% less than in FY2009,21 in nominal, non-inflation adjusted dollars. Teen Parent Services (TPS) helps parents who are under age 21 receive or apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); or receive All Kids22, Women, Infants and Children (WIC)23, Family Case Management (FCM)24 or food stamps. Basically, recipients are young, poor to low income high school dropouts.

These statistics reflect the reality that organizations are facing every day — a steady cut in funding to support the important day-to-day work around these life and death issues.

For girls and young women, this reality is devastating.  Girls and young women are impacted by every one of these funding cutbacks.  Looking at the statistics, it’s immediately apparent that services to teen parents and children’s services will impact girls & young women.  But because young women live at the intersection of all of these issues, the impact on them goes beyond these youth-focused budget cuts.  At a time when we are increasingly recognizing the need for domestic violence services geared towards youth, funding cutbacks to domestic violence providers overall make this even more difficult.   The risk of rape is significantly higher for young women, making sexual assault services crucial to young women’s well-being.

As advocates, activists, survivors and allies, our response needs to be twofold.

First, we need to oppose cutbacks to these crucial, life-saving services.  Check out the Responsible Budget Coalition for more information on how you can get involved in organizing efforts to save these services.

Second, we need to develop innovative, community-based responses to these issues to supplement programs that are inundated with client requests, and to build community support for survivors.  Now is the time to develop innovative approaches that better engage our communities.  The Taskforce has been gathering information on projects both here and beyond Chicago that are engaging communities to change systems, to support young women, and to intervene in cases of violence through restorative and transformative justice practices.  We will be sharing this information early next year on our new website.  If you are engaged in this work and want to share the info with us, please email us at – we look forward to hearing from you!

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Posted by on December 22, 2010 in Budget, Public policy


Cook County Hearings: testimony of research associate Claudia Garcia-Rojas

Claudia Garcia-Rojas, Research Associate for the Taskforce, has conducted research about how to improve County health services for girls and young women who are survivors of sexual violence. She shared her initial findings at the hearings:

The Chicago Taskforce serves as a vehicle for addressing the following two questions:

  1. How will we galvanize attention to the devastating violence plaguing the lives of girls and young women?
  1. How will we marshal the public/political will to end the violence?

In its work, the Chicago Taskforce researches currently enforced public policies that affect and/or influence how health care professionals at Cook County’s Bureau of Health Services respond to girls and young women that report sexual violence. In addition to identifying public policies that address the issue of violence against women at-large, the Chicago Taskforce began interviewing health care professionals at John H. Stroger, Jr., Hospital of Cook County (hereinafter Stroger Hospital) in May and will continue to conduct these interviews.

As the public policy research assistant for the Chicago Taskforce and as a former Hospital Crisis Intervention Counselor (HCIP) at Stroger Hospital, I have employed other methods of evaluation, such as direct observation based on my experience working primarily in the Emergency and Trauma Departments, in addition to the use of existing data collection from other research.

The goal of the research is to identify what are the lacunae in current public policies, in addition to recognizing barriers in intervention practices and possible solutions.

Interview questions were organized according to the following categories:

  • Structural
  • Attitudinal
  • Physical Context: Practices and Challenges
  • Behavioral

I have selected the over-arching questions asked during the interviews and am including some of the responses:


Did you receive any training on how to respond to or assist (girls/young women) who report sexual violence? If yes, are there different levels of training? Any follow-up to previous training(s)?

Most providers responded that they have received trainings that address abuse in general either during orientation their 1st year, through lectures or through computer programs. Half reported to have received trainings on a regular basis (once a year), while the remainder stated that they have had only one training and nothing since. Further, most answered that they have not received training on how to respond specifically to young girls and women survivors of violence. For those that responded that they have attended training specifically on young girls and women survivors of violence used the words “women” and “violence” as general categories, as opposed to ‘girls’ and ‘sexual violence.’


Do you think there is a need for a training that addresses how providers respond to girls or young women who report sexual violence?

All providers responded yes.

“Yes, I think it’s important. Because a lot of times people come out for a reason other than the one that they tell you. [It’s a] way to seek help.”

“Yes. [In order to] know the basics about identification and reporting. Then, to make appropriate referrals to people specialized in [the] area, so not to miss an opportunity.”

“[We need] heightened awareness for screening. Something more specific for sexual violence.”

“I think so; we don’t do the best job at screening for [sexual violence]. [There are] different levels of comfort or acting on it if someone is in fact a survivor of violence. [There is] always room for more.”

Physical Context: Practices and Challenges

What challenges do you think would arise, both attitudinal and structural, in implementing such a training?

All providers responded that time is an issue and as a result highly value the support and collaborative effort amongst organizations stationed at the hospital, specifically Rape Victim Advocates and the Hospital Crisis Intervention Project. These organizations step in and follow-up with the young girls and women that require further assistance and services. While both organizations are an invaluable asset to the Cook County Bureau of Health Services, Rape Victim Advocates (RVA) has expert medical advocates on-site. Services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at the Emergency Rooms of all twelve (12) . The expert medical advocates provide emotional support, medical and legal information, referrals and initial follow-up services to survivors and their significant others. If the survivor requests additional follow-up services, a staff advocate can provide more long-term medical and legal advocacy.

“Time [is] always an issue. [One] has to approach different levels of staff, different types of staff; pretty big number of people.”

“Change is difficult because tradition [is so] embedded. [There is] more [time] available with online training. [It is] more accessible.”

“[The] biggest barrier is TIME.”

Does your department have a policy and/or protocol to screening girls or young women for abuse? Specifically around sexual violence?

Most providers responded that their department included a policy or protocol on violence as a general category and the remainder were not certain how specific are the policies, and a few were unsure whether there are existing policies or not.


Given its prevalence, what makes attending to a young girl or woman who reports sexual violence different than attending to other health issues?

Most providers responded that there is a level of attention and commitment required that they are not always able to provide due to time restrictions. Again, RVA and HCIP are identified as resources that providers consistently seek.

[Sexual violence is] very different. [It’s] a much more sensitive topic. [It] involves [not just] the patient herself, [but also her] children, family members, abuser, etc. [Addressing this issue requires] expertise [and] time. It’s a very different scenario.

“I think medical issues are a lot more straightforward; [you] throw a pill, [do an] operation, etc. With these kinds of injuries [sexual violence], [we] don’t know [the] extent of injuries. [We are] better at [the] medical [aspect of injuries],”

“Definitely [different although these are] medical issues that need to be investigated; [there are] emotional [and] psychological issues that need to be addressed.

According to the results, the Chicago Taskforce has identified six (6) priorities for the Cook County Department of Public Health and the Cook County Bureau of Health Services in the state of Illinois.

1. Young Girls and Women’s Civil Rights: To undertake an aggressive effort to create a public education campaign that raises awareness of and education on the causes and effects of sexual violence against girls and young women for health care professionals and staff employed by and at the Cook County Department of Public Health and the Cook County Bureau of Health Services. In order to create an effective public education campaign and to provide a space that empowers young girls and women, we need them to lead these discussions and the public education campaign.

2. Quality Assurance: To develop and implement a realistic set of policies and/or protocols that ensure and enable the Cook County Department of Public Health and the Cook County Bureau of Health Services to respond and meet the needs of young girls and women who are survivors of sexual violence.

3. Health: To create an initiative of the Cook County Department of Public Health and the Cook County Bureau of Health Services that acknowledges that violence against young girls and women is a health issue, thereby promoting and increasing the number of services and resources available to young girls and women and the potential for increased funding for and collaboration with existing organizations servicing young women and girls.

4. Education I: To create strategies that increase the number and consistency of educational trainings available to health care professionals working with the Cook County Department of Public Health and the Cook County Bureau of Health Services that address how to respond and service young girls and women survivors of sexual violence.

5. Education II: To promote and encourage the participation of external private Health Care institutions that collaborate with the Cook County Department of Public Health and the Cook County Bureau of Health Services to address the issue of sexual violence against young girls and women and services/resources available.

6. Community: To strengthen relationships amongst Cook County Bureau of Health Services health care professionals and non-profits working to eliminate violence against girls and young women, such as the Chicago Taskforce and Rape Victim Advocates, we welcome and encourage providers to participate in the dialogue. Providers are willing to collaborate in helping to find solutions to these issues either through research or effective trainings.

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Posted by on October 28, 2010 in Public policy, Sexual assault


Cook County hearings: testimony of Taskforce co-founder, Mariame Kaba

Mariame Kaba, co-founder of the Taskforce and Founding Executive Director of Project NIA, offered testimony about issues impacting incarcerated girls. This outline of her testimony provides information as to the issues impacting incarcerated girls, as well as initial recommendations to the County.

At last count, Illinois was spending over $80,000 to incarcerate one youth per year.  About 10,000 girls 10 to 16 years old are arrested every year in Illinois which amounts to about 20 to 22 percent of all of the arrests of the state.  Girls are mostly arrested for nonviolent offenses. Girls are being incarcerated more often for trivial offenses such as:

  • Technical violation of probation/parole
  • Status offenses (truancy, runaway, incorrigibility)
  • Larceny theft (shoplifting)
  • Traffic offenses
  • Drug offenses

About 30% of arrests of girls in Illinois are for violent offenses mostly aggravated battery.  Many of these arrests take place on school grounds.  On any given day in Illinois, we can find about 100 young women incarcerated at youth prisons and about 25-50 at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
Incarcerated Girls in Chicago and Illinois are:

  • Likely to have run away from home – A 2004 study found that 8 out of 10 incarcerated girls had run away from home.
  • More likely to suffer from tremendous emotional trauma (depression, anxiety disorders).  Girls receive this diagnosis more frequently than boys.
  • Abuse and Neglect Histories (The Girl Prison Pipeline): Likely to have suffered from physical and sexual abuse prior to incarceration.  Compared to boys, girls experience more sexual victimization overall, including sexual assaults, rapes, and sexual harassment.  All types of maltreatment can increase the risks for both sexes.
  • Likely to suffer sexual abuse while in custody.

Health Issues of Girls In Trouble with the Law

  • Suicide behavior is about 2.5 times greater than the general population.
  • Substance abuse is high (mainly marijuana use)
  • STDs, unplanned pregnancies, and dental problems.

Protective Factors

  • Support from a caring adult.
  • School Success
  • Religiosity

Over the past 5 years, many improvements have been made at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.  This is in large part due to the Court Advocates Group that was convened by the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group in 2002 and continues to this day.  One major change came with the hiring in March 2009 of a director for a newly established Office of Gender Responsive Programming.
Other improvements include:

  1. The establishment of the W.I.N.G.S.  Center (Working in Nurturing Girls Success) at the JTDC.  This center serves to house girls and provide them with gender responsive services.
  2. The establishment of a better system for distributing personal hygiene items.
  3. A concerted effort to reach out to the community to provide more gender-specific programming to girls on the inside.

As such, what I want to focus on today on some recommendations that focus on the prevention side and the post-incarceration or re-entry needs for girls in trouble with the law.

  1. Prevention – We need to address the Girl Prison Pipeline and to do that we need to do a much better job of addressing the trauma that girls face BEFORE they come into contact with the system.  Keep them out of the system since we know the incarceration DOES NOT WORK.  It is a pathway to future involvement in the adult criminal legal system.  This means providing ADEQUATE RESOURCES for anti-violence programs in schools and community settings.
  2. We need county backing for keeping youth OUT of the Juvenile Justice System by providing funding and support for restorative justice programs and other alternatives to incarceration.
  3. We need help and support to address the re-entry needs of formerly incarcerated girls (emergency funds, housing, employment training, counseling support).
  4. The County needs to develop a pool of resources specifically dedicated to the re-entry needs of all formerly incarcerated youth.  The County can begin by providing community-based organizations with access to FREE SPACE to create a centrally-located re-entry drop in center for youth in trouble with the law.  This can allow us to address the recidivism issue.
  5. The County needs to make it easier and cheaper for young women to expunge their juvenile criminal records.  One way to do this is to revert back to the 2009 fee structure for filing juvenile expungement petitions.

The Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls will be developing a series of other recommendations in the near future.  However these recommendations that I have shared today can be implemented immediately by the County.

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Posted by on October 28, 2010 in Data, Incarceration, Public policy