The Women's Coalition of Milwaukee, 1972-1987
© 1987 by J. M. Dombeck aka Jamakaya. All rights reserved.

Chapter Three
Service and Direct Action:
Prostitutes, Displaced Homemakers
and Take Back the Night

The resurgence of the Women's Coalition in the late 1970s manifested itself in two new projects, the Task Force on Prostitution which developed the Myriad program, and the Displaced Homemakers Project. Coalition activists also launched a campaign of direct action to protest violence against women, the Take Back the Night movement. Results of these endeavors varied. While raising awareness about the plight of prostitutes and displaced homemakers and providing support for hundreds of women, the Coalition's service projects struggled against bureaucratic controls and suffered from internal dissension over the value of social service as a route to change. The Take Back the Night campaign was characterized by greater consensus and contributed to institutional reforms in the criminal justice and educational systems.

The Myriad Program

The Task Force on Prostitution, which initiated the Myriad program, traced its beginnings to late 1977, when the Women's Coalition received a phone call from Debra Trakel, a Probation and Parole Agent for the State of Wisconsin. A Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge ordered Trakel's client, a convicted prostitute, to participate in some sort of women's support group as a condition of her probation. This unconventional sentence was apparently intended to discourage the woman from returning to her former life by providing an ongoing support network within the community and a place for her to examine her lifestyle and build her self-esteem. Aware of the women's movement's emphasis on self-help and peer support groups, Trakel called the Coalition for advice.1

At the September retreat, Coalition members discussed the possibility of a new project to aid women in prison. Judi Selle, a volunteer who later became a staff member, responded to Trakel's call. Selle expressed the Coalition's interest in analyzing prostitution further and developing services geared to the needs of women who wanted to leave the life. In keeping with its tradition of responding to the needs of women who called for help, and sensing the potential for a fundable service project, the Women's Coalition established the Task Force on Prostitution in February of 1978.2

In its early months, the Task Force researched prostitution's incidence in the Milwaukee area, its disposition within the criminal justice system, its effects on the women involved, and the broader social implications of its very existence. Members discovered convicted prostitutes in Milwaukee were generally young, poorly educated, low income, disproportionately black, and from families with histories of abuse. Task Force members arrived at a feminist analysis of prostitution similar to that voiced by Emma Goldman at the turn of the century. Goldman declared: "...the economic and social inferiority of woman is responsible for prostitution."3

The Coalition's newsletter offered a more blistering indictment.

There are over 1,000 women currently on paper for prostitution or disorderly conduct reduced from prostitution in Milwaukee County. The ways in which the law is enforced offer a striking example of institutionalized sexism and racism and the double standard exhibited by our society: prostitutes are harassed and prosecuted and often jailed while the john goes free. Many women choose prostitution because of the lack of economic alternatives, not because of glamour and excitement... An adequate response to the issue must therefore include decriminalization Of the laws around prostitution as well as offering decent occupational and educational opportunities to women.4

In February 1978, Coalition workers traveled to the State Women's Prison at Taycheedah where they listened to the concerns of incarcerated prostitutes and sought advice on the types of services which might help them readjust their lives. With the assistance of Trakel, staff then designed a program of support services for prostitutes which could be funded by the Wisconsin Bureau of Community Corrections (BCC). The resulting proposal emphasized the high recidivism rate among convicted prostitutes and the correspondingly high costs to the criminal justice system handling the caseload. Coalition workers believed funding for an innovative program of high impact services might save the state money in the long run. Because the project intended to acquaint prostitutes with the many other options available in life, it was named "Myriad."5 The proposal submitted to the BCC described the purposes of the Coalition's prostitute support project:

The goal of this project is to develop for each client a support system that will enable her to pursue alternative life plans. By strengthening the self-concept of each woman and providing a vehicle through which she will receive additional support from her peers and other women, we intend to enhance her motivation to broaden her life plan alternatives. 6

The BCC approved the Coalition's proposal and, with a budget of just over $32,000 for its first year, the Myriad program began operations in July 1978. The Coalition hired a Project Coordinator and six part-time Facilitators/Resource Aides to administer Myriad's services. Myriad's staff opened an office in downtown Milwaukee in September that year. The purchase of services contract with the state specified that Myriad serve at least 40 clients on probation or parole for prostitution or prostitution-related offenses, such as loitering or disorderly conduct. Myriad could serve only those clients officially referred to the program by a court order or through probation or parole agents. The contract required agents to be present at the initial intake interview and to consult regularly with Myriad staff on the progress of their clients. The Bureau also required quarterly reports to assess the program's overall impact.

Each Myriad client participated in a twelve week support group with other prostitutes, designed to strengthen her self-esteem and help her understand the root causes of her involvement in prostitution. Clients then completed a twelve week session of individual counseling for concrete, goal directed planning. These sessions stressed education and job training. Myriad staff conducted tutoring to enable clients to earn high school equivalency certificates. Job counselors acquainted clients with the range of vocational possibilities and trained them in effective interview techniques. Staff also assisted clients when problems arose with child care, welfare, and housing.7

The Myriad program was evaluated according to several different criteria and won renewed funding in 1979 on the basis of its demonstrated success. Upon entering the program, clients established specific goals in areas like education, employment, and family/social life. Emphasis was placed on disengagement from prostitution and all related activities and dependencies. An evaluation method formally measured the progress clients made toward their stated goals during enrollment in the program. Staff also documented attendance at support groups and the rate of recidivism among clients to measure Myriad's effectiveness. In early 1979, the Coalition submitted a proposal to refund Myriad for another year. They reported that none of the 28 women active in the program had been rearrested on prostitution or related offenses. Many made progress toward their stated goals. Apparently pleased with these and other measures of effectiveness, the BCC granted Myriad $32,000 for its second year.8

The Myriad program attracted additional funding and community support. In 1979, the Coalition received $10,000 from the Prevention and Wellness Commission of the State Department of Health and Social Services. The Wellness grant allowed Myriad to expand its services to voluntary clients, not just those assigned to the program by the correctional system. This grant, which required Senate Joint Finance Committee approval, was the subject of extensive debate at the State Capitol. State Senator Gerald Kleczka questioned the inclusion of prostitute support services within the state's health budget. Donald Percy, Secretary of Health and Social Services, took a broader view of his department's mandate. Percy spoke in favor of Myriad and the grant was ultimately approved. In 1980, Myriad received additional funding from two local sources, the Milwaukee and Cudahy Foundations. Each donated $10,000. The Milwaukee Journal published favorable reports and editorials on the success of Myriad, and an NBC news crew produced a report, aired on its national newscast, about Milwaukee's innovative program for prostitutes.9

Ironically, at the height of favorable publicity and community support, circumstances arose which led to the rapid dissolution of the Myriad project. Citing budget restraints, the BCC approved a reduced grant of approximately $28,000 for Myriad in 1980, and in 1981, the Bureau denied the Coalition's request for a fourth year of funding. With government funds withdrawn, private support dried up, and Myriad closed its doors in late June of 1981.10

Opinions differ about why Myriad was not refunded. Coalition staff blamed government cutbacks and insensitive funding sources. Judi Selle offered this assessment in Common Ground: "Myriad is a victim of Reaganomics and Proposition 13 thinking, a fine program whose clients don't fit the priorities of the funders."11

Denise Crumble, Employment Specialist with the Coalition who worked closely with Myriad clients, agreed with Selle. Crumble, a black woman, indicted the "white, male-dominated criminal justice system" for "not giving a damn about prostitutes" and claimed that racist attitudes (the majority of Myriad clients were black) lay behind the Bureau's decision.12 She also believed the Myriad program was denied funds because of its "aggressive feminist posture."13

Debra Trakel, who helped initiate the program and served as 1iaison between Myriad and the BCC, viewed Myriad's closing as "a classic example of grass roots groups not adapting to the politics of large bureaucracies."14 She cited incidents in which Myriad staff members violated terms of the BCC contract by direct intervention in the court system. Staff sometimes appeared in intake court to act as advocates for newly charged prostitutes, encouraging their participation in Myriad. Although motivated by good intentions, they circumvented established judicial and contractual procedures. According to Trakel, the District Attorney's Office was particularly disturbed by the intrusions and communicated its displeasure to the BCC.15

Myriad staff members claimed that funding from non-BCC sources entitled them to recruit clients wherever they could be found. They cited the Coalition's tradition of advocacy on behalf of women and complained about restrictions placed on their actions. Ruth Bukowiecki of the Coalition staff felt it was unfair for the BCC to "own" or seek "exclusive control" over Myriad, an agency with which the Bureau merely contracted services.l6

Trakel attended the BCC meeting at which Myriad funding was finally rejected. She noted two reasons for the decision: the Myriad staff's poor record of cooperation with the Bureau, and the Bureau's perception that problems with Myriad took an unreasonable amount of BOO staff time. In Trakel's opinion, the program was doomed not because of an insensitive and arbitrary government cutback, but because Coalition feminists refused to adapt their principles and behavior to the requirements of the funding source. 17

A variety of documentary evidence supports Trakel's contention. In quarterly evaluations of the Myriad program by BOO agents, certain criticisms appear repeatedly. Agents noted the absence of required reports from Myriad and the tardy nature of those reports finally received. They criticized Myriad's "inaccessibility" and stated: "Program never returns phone calls."18

The evaluations admonished Myriad for services provided to clients without proper authorization forms. In addition, the actual number of client contact hours reported by Myriad for each quarter amounted to only half of those required by the contract. Despite these criticisms of its administrative apparatus, agents praised Myriad's support services as "very beneficial" to clients."19

Additional evidence reveals the inability of Myriad and Coalition staff members to comprehend the bureaucratic methods of the BCC. On one evaluation form, an unidentified Myriad worker crossed out the word "vendor" and penned this impotent protest below it: "This name is like a machine... We are not pinball machines... We are trained, committed women and provide crucially needed services to minority women who have been cast aside by the system and turned into sexual slaves."20

Lengthy negotiations to resolve the deficiency in contact hours frustrated staff.

Ruth Bukowiecki commented:

It was such a headache. Here we were wanting to work on issues and change the lives of women, and instead we were discussing 'ancillary' and 'collateral' hours... Maybe it was such a headache that when we got word funding would be cut, we didn't fight as hard as we could to keep it going.2l

Bukowiecki also recalled poor communication between the Coalition office on the east side and the Myriad office in downtown Milwaukee. The Coalition administered the financial paperwork, while Myriad provided the direct services. Lapses in communication and accountability sometimes occurred.22

Lack of sophistication in the Coalition's administration of Myriad did not in itself doom the project. In the wake of Ronald Reagan's election to the Presidency in 1980, state governments braced for an expected reduction in federal monies. When the Bureau denied Myriad's request for renewed support in 1981, both Selle and Bukowiecki recall that budget cutting was cited as the primary reason; the Bureau indicated its desire to conduct more services 'in house,' to reduce the amount of contracts with outside vendors. Coalition staff knew that most probation/parole agents spent only one hour per month with clients. The very purpose of Myriad was to provide intense contact and support services for the women. Selle and other staff members doubted the Bureau would expand its own services for prostitutes (it did not), so its rationale in defunding Myriad seemed hypocritical and, indeed, insensitive. There is some validity, therefore, in the Coalition's contention that Myriad was the victim of insensitive budget cutting.23

It is difficult to assess the ultimate impact of Myriad. At least 155 women received counseling and tutoring through the program, but a follow-up report indicating the effect of its services on clients' subsequent behavior was never completed.24 The Women's Coalition hoped to combine feminist advocacy with direct services for prostitutes in its model program. The Coalition's initial zeal in attacking the issue of prostitution was derailed, however, by the bureaucratic procedures and restrictions which funding sources required for direct service delivery. A serious contradiction affected the Coalition's administration of Myriad. The principles which guided the Coalition's reorganization in 1978 declared:

The Women's Coalition ... should serve primarily as an organizing body. Direct service to clients, although an incidental effect of its operation and its development of new projects, should not be a primary focus. The Women's Coalition can have the greatest impact by generating new projects (and setting them free as soon as they become viable). 25

The Women's Crisis Line and the Task Force on Battered Women owe their enduring success to the independence granted them by the Coalition. The Coalition's strength was in identifying problem areas and providing community education and advocacy. In Myriad's case, Coalition workers lacked the administrative acumen, and perhaps, the will, to manage a large social service program. This tension between advocacy and direct service appeared in another Coalition project of the same period, the Displaced Homemakers Project.

Displaced Homemakers Project

The Women's Coalition initiated a Displaced Homemakers Project in 1978. The goals of the new project included community education and the development of support systems for displaced homemakers.26 The term 'displaced homemaker' was originally coined in 1974 by Tish Sommers, the National Coordinator of NOW's Task Force on Older Women.27 Sommers, along with Laurie Shields, established the Alliance of Displaced Homemakers in 1975, an organization which evolved into the National Displaced Homemakers Network today. A Coalition fact sheet defined the displaced homemaker as:

A woman who 1) is 35-65 years old and has spent the majority of her time providing unpaid service to her family for a substantial number of years, 2) has lost her primary means of support through widowhood, separation, divorce or disablement of her husband, and 3) is currently finding entry into the workforce difficult due to lack of recent paid work experience and the continuing practice of age and sex discrimination within business and industry.. .The problems of displaced homemakers are further compounded by their frequent ineligibility for federal and private income security programs. Many are too young for Social Security but too Old for Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Widows quickly learn that their husbands' pension plans are not designed to provide adequate survivor benefits, if any at all. Displaced homemakers feel isolated in their current dilemma ... over four mil lion women occupy that position, 80,000 in the Milwaukee area alone. They share the common need for ... a broad based support system from their federal and local governments, the labor force, and their communities. 28

The issue of displaced homemakers attracted Coalition members for several reasons. First of all, in 1978, no local services geared to the special needs of displaced homemakers existed. The frustration of having no concrete support programs spurred the Coalition to initiate its own services. Coalition workers were also attracted to the critique of social and economic relations inherent in the term "displaced homemaker." Cheryl Kader, Coordinator of the Coalition's project, commented on the early research and analysis conducted by Sommers and Shields:

Their analysis -- everything they said and wrote -- had a very political, feminist slant to it: that these women were displaced, passed over, thrown out, told they were no longer of use by a system which finds women no longer occupying their traditional role as to be useless, redundant, and valueless. It was a fairly sophisticated critique of a system which devalued women, especially older women...29

The Displaced Homemakers Project, therefore, followed the pattern of earlier Coalition projects: it provided needed services while simultaneously raising political consciousness.

Funding for the Displaced Homemakers Project in its first phase, mid-1978 to early 1981, was minimal. The Coalition received two VISTA slots which supported the coordinator of the project as well as one consultant. The Presbyterian Church and the Campaign for Human Development bestowed grants of $5,000 each. Clearly, $10,000 for operational expenses over a two and a half year period could not build a strong or secure project, but staff members proceeded with the resources at hand.30

Project staff and volunteers researched the plight of displaced homemakers in the Milwaukee area and printed and distributed educational materials to enlighten the community. The Project published a resource guide for displaced homemakers which listed low cost mental health, legal, educational, and financial services. Mother's Day "Speak-Outs" were held annually. At these events, women spoke of the trials of motherhood and homemaking and the difficulty of surviving after widowhood or divorce. The Coalition drove home its political point in its press releases:

The Women's Coalition believes it is hypocritical for this society to celebrate Motherhood without providing the necessary services to those women who have chosen the career of Mother and Homemaker and are now without financial resources. 31

Throughout 1978 and 1979, the Project presented a series of workshops -- "Finding Your Place: Coping Skills for Displaced Homemakers." Presented in different areas of the city, workshops included "Coping With Stress," "Relieving Financial Pressure," "Legal Rights and Responsibilities," and "Women in the Workforce." From the 40-50 women attending each workshop, the Project formed more personalized support groups, and drew volunteers to help sustain the Coalition's educational efforts.32

Several factors emerged in 1980 which cast a shadow over the future of the project. Coordinator Cheryl Kader grew increasingly frustrated with what she perceived as the inadequacy of Coalition services. Displaced homemakers proved to be a difficult population to serve because of the enormity of their needs: money, housing, therapy, training, jobs, and more. The Coalition's emphasis was primarily on community education to raise political awareness, supplemented by self-help and peer support groups. Kader, working with the women daily, recognized that much more was needed:

How do you talk to a woman who is so needy and leave her saying, 'Yeah, well, this is because the social system is so shitty and it's treated you so bad...' I was the one talking to these women, and after an hour on the telephone, knew that to tell them 'the system stinks' was not enough. I was leaving them crying and saying 'But I called because you said you could help.'"33

Kader respected the Coalition's commitment to politics, education, and advocacy on the displaced homemaker issue, but sensed among staff and Board "a real distaste and discomfort with direct service."34 A comment by Georgia Ressmeyer confirms Kader's impression and reveals the gulf which existed among staff members over the project's goals:

Whether we were really equipped to do the best possible job service-wise wasn't what we were thinking in terms of, because our goal was always consciousness-raising: to expose these women to broader vistas of ambition rather than to get them jobs at $4.50 an hour doing clerical work. 35

Ressmeyer expressed further skepticism about direct service work. She feared greater dependence on funding sources might blunt the Coalition's ability to engage in advocacy. Kader saw a contradiction between that legitimate fear and the Coalition's all out support for the Myriad program. Kader believed displaced homemakers were not as "chic" or "glamorous" as prostitutes, and felt among Coalition workers "a real lack of commitment to the Displaced Homemakers Project."36

When her VISTA position ended in mid-1980, Kader left the Coalition for another job. A grant through Wisconsin's Work Incentive Program enabled the Coalition to hire a replacement, but Carol Parkes also grew frustrated with the project's "nebulous goals" and lack of support from staff and Board.37

A second phase of the Displaced Homemakers Project began in 1982, when state monies became available for retraining and employing displaced workers. The Women's Coalition joined a consortium of agencies in the Milwaukee Area Displaced Homemakers Network. The Wisconsin Vocational-Technical Board of Adult Education granted the Displaced Homemakers Network $136,000 for two years of operation. The new program recruited, counseled, trained, and placed displaced homemakers in unsubsidized employment. The consortium provided the comprehensive array of services Cheryl Kader had recognized as necessary. The Displaced Homemakers Network consisted of four components. Its lead agency, the Interfaith Program for the Elderly, managed intake assessment and job placement. Project Equality, which monitored compliance with federal equal opportunity guidelines, conducted employer education. The Milwaukee Area Technical College contributed its Office Skills Training Program, and the Women's Coalition sponsored support groups and community education. The Coalition received about $25,000 of the state grant in 1982 and 1983.38

Shortly after the Coalition swung into renewed action, however, the Vocational-Technical Board withdrew support from two members of the consortium, Project Equality and the Women's Coalition. Sharon Taylor, Director of Employment and Displaced Homemaker Services for Interfaith, reported that the Board's Advisory Committee believed too much money was allocated for education and outreach and more should be concentrated in training and job placement. Although the Displaced Homemakers Network received funding of approximately $81,000 in l984 and in each year since, the Women's Coalition did not share in the funding. Because state funding clearly favored direct services, the Coalition's role as advocate and educator went unrewarded.39 Ironically, the agency which initially publicized and politicized the issue of displaced homemakers in the Milwaukee community was cut out of the funding and services it worked so long to establish.

The Take Back the Night Campaign

The Take Back the Night campaign, launched by the Women's Coalition in 1979, was characterized by greater consensus and had a significant impact on the Milwaukee community. A series of street demonstrations to protest violence against women led to increased community education on sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, and contributed to institutional changes which addressed these social problems more effectively. Funding for its Community Education Project from the City of Milwaukee and private foundations sustained the Women's Coalition from 1981 through 1985.

In the Summer of 1979, a series of brutal rapes and murders occurred in the Milwaukee area. Beginning in May with the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Joanne Esser on a state highway, the violent incidents multiplied. A client killed Dr. Rhoda Lorton, a psychiatrist at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex. Teenagers Heather Halseth, Nancy Lynn Radbill, and Heidi Hafeman were found assaulted and battered. Four elderly women, Helen Lows, Florence Meyn, Della Mae Liggins, and Florence Burkard, were stabbed and beaten to death in their homes. Other murder victims during the period of May to September included Alice Alzner, Janet Marie Bey, Marion L. Friend, Valerie Lane, Rose Powell, and Jennifer Rice, aged 13 months.40

The number of murders and the attendant media coverage created a climate of fear and anger in the community, and several groups formed to protest the violence. Women Against Rape (WAR) held a small protest rally in June and later concentrated on forming a special anti-rape unit in Milwaukee's Police Department. WAR focused its efforts on City Hall where, through intense lobbying, it hoped to force changes in Police Department procedures. Among WAR's activists was the persistent and ubiquitous Virginia Ray. The Ad Hoc Committee to Stop Violence Against Women consisted of representatives of many concerned groups including the Mayor's Office, the YWCA, the Task Force on Battered Women, local chapters of the National Council of Jewish Women and NOW, the Women's Coalition, and more. The Ad Hoc Committee published a half page advertisement condemning violence against women, signed by hundreds of citizens, in the October 7, 1979 Milwaukee Journal. The ad encouraged attendance at a public forum the following weekend at which legislators, educators, clergy, and feminists addressed the recent wave of violence.4l

A third effort, initiated by the Women's Coalition and endorsed by the Ad Hoc Committee and WAR, called for a large protest demonstration in downtown Milwaukee -- the first annual Take Back the Night (TBTN) march and rally. Coalition staff, along with volunteers from member groups and the community at large, helped plan the demonstration. Milwaukee's TBTN organizers adopted three objectives. First of all, they hoped to release and channel the immediate anger and frustration existing in the community. Leaflets exhorted attendees to "Express Your Outrage! Dispel the Contention of Community Apathy!"42 Education on issues of violence against women was another priority. The feminist critique of rape and woman battering appeared prominently in TBTN literature:

Rape ... is an act of power and control and can happen to all women. Violence against women is political because it is used to keep us powerless and to secure the status of male domination in a patriarchal society.43

The Coalition also worked closely with local television station WISN, which presented a weeklong series of educational programs on sexual assault and domestic violence prior to the TBTN march. Finally, the march served as a militant method of demanding attitudinal and institutional changes to alleviate violence against women.44

The October protests were invested with greater urgency after remarks by Police Chief Harold Breier on October 5, 1979. During budget hearings at City Hall, Chief Breier denied the need for a new anti-rape unit in the Police Department, where rape complaints were investigated by Vice Squad officers. Breier declared that many rapes reported to the police were "not really rapes" at all, and claimed to be unaware of unreported rapes in the Milwaukee area.45 He denied allegations that his officers were insensitive to rape victims. When WAR members presented statistics indicating women had a greater chance of being raped in Milwaukee than in Chicago or New York, Breier dismissed the information as "poppycock." 46

On Friday, October 19th, 2,500 to 3,000 people marched in the Take Back the Night demonstration. Coalition organizers were stunned by the turnout and the militance of the crowd. Chants of "Women unite! Take back the night!" were joined by those urging "Fire Breier, he's a liar!" and "No more parole, no more bail! Let the rapists rot in jail!"47 The Milwaukee Journal reported: "Seldom has so large a group rallied to march through Milwaukee streets."48 Demonstrators marched along Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee and gathered for a rally in MacArthur Square, adjacent to the Police Department. The police locked their administration building for the duration of the three hour protest, and a spokesman for the Department could not recall when such precautionary steps had ever been taken.49


On October 19, 1979, more than 2,500 Milwaukeeans took to the streets
in the first annual Take Back the Night march and rally.
Photo for Common Ground by Sharon Allen.

The momentum of the Take Back the Night demonstration along with intense lobbying by local feminists, notably Women Against Rape, forced the City to respond. On November 15, 1979, the Milwaukee Common Council established a Citywide Task Force on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.50 A broad range of government and community leaders was appointed to the Task Force, including representatives of the Mayor's Office, the Police Department, the District Attorney's Office, the Task Force on Battered Women, WAR, the Sexual Assault Treatment Center, the Women's Coalition, Child Protective Services, and the Community Anti-Crime Project. The resolution creating the Task Force outlined several objectives: to review the policies of all public agencies regarding their treatment of victims; to evaluate existing laws and procedures of the criminal justice system; to plan a sexual assault unit separate from the Vice Squad; to design special training on sexual assault and domestic violence for all police officers; to devise "special investigative techniques" to assist child victims of sexual assault and incest; and to develop an "anti-sexual assault education program for presentation to schools and community organizations."51

Some Milwaukee feminists greeted the establishment of the City Task Force on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence with skepticism. The creation of the City Task Force was a compromise measure which replaced an earlier proposal endorsed by Alderman Robert Weber and Women Against Rape. WAR's resolution (which was mysteriously mislaid) had called for a Task Force whose specific goal was to implement an anti-rape unit in the Milwaukee Police Department. The new City Task Force encompassed a much broader mandate. WAR members believed the inclusion of domestic violence, although a critical concern, would draw attention from their central goal of an anti-rape unit. Since the Common Council failed to allocate funding for the anti-rape unit in its 1980 budget, the role of the Task Force would be advisory. Worried that the new Task Force could be a smokescreen to study sexual assault and domestic violence rather than to implement specific reforms, WAR declined its seat on the Task Force. Virginia Ray told Amazon: "We would be more effective as a force for change ... to get an anti-rape unit in the Police Department, on the outside, monitoring the progress of the Task Force."52

WAR's suspicions proved correct. Although the City Task Force adopted an anti-rape unit model (based largely on WAR's proposal and research) and recommended it to the Common Council and Police Department, the Common Council, citing budget restraints, repeatedly refused to allocate the money required to implement the unit, and the Police Department, under Chief Harold Breier, refused to cooperate in its implementation. Although police officers have apparently benefitted from sensitivity training supplied through the City Task Force, in 1987, sexual assault investigations by the Milwaukee Police Department remain within the Vice Squad.53

In other ways, the City Task Force on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence was a victory for Milwaukee feminists. The inclusion of feminist activists on the Task Force acknowledged their leadership on the issues involved and assured their input into policy recommendations which affected City departments and agencies. The Task Force became the official voice of the City on matters relating to sexual assault and domestic violence. The Common Council provided $50,000 for the aforementioned police sensitivity training and an additional $50,000 for a citywide preventive education effort. Later grants administered through the Task Force provided special outreach to the Black and Hispanic communities and supported neighborhood anti-crime programs.

Task Force members held press conferences to comment on controversial incidents in Milwaukee and gained Common Council approval for relevant policy changes to improve the treatment of assault victims. When Circuit Court Judge Ralph Gorenstein berated a witness testifying in a sexual assault case and threatened to dismiss the charges if she continued crying, members of the City Task Force met with Chief Judge Victor Manian and scheduled an education and sensitivity session on sexual assault for all Circuit Court Judges. The Task Force supported efforts to allow children's videotaped testimony in child abuse and incest prosecutions, a policy adopted as state law in 1983. Prodded by representatives of the Task Force on Battered Women, who presented statistics from other cities indicating that mandatory arrests of batterers deterred subsequent attacks, the Milwaukee Police Department (under its new Chief, Robert Ziarnik) adopted a mandatory arrest policy for domestic abuse cases in 1986. Thus, the City Task Force became an official vehicle through which feminist concerns were relayed to government bodies. With the combined clout of other Task Force representatives, many in strategic government positions, issues could be resolved more expeditiously.54

The Women's Coalition received the first $50,000 grant from the City for a preventive education program conducted in 1981-82. The Community Education Project focused on the areas of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and incest. Project staff researched the issues, developed a model curriculum of preventive education, and distributed educational materials during presentations to hundreds of school classes and community groups. Coalition workers conducted in-service training sessions for personnel in City agencies like the Health Department, the Safety Commission, the Commission on Community Relations, and the Milwaukee Public Schools. Project members also appeared on local television and radio programs to spread the preventive education message.55

The Women's Coalition diversified its community education efforts in subsequent years. It received a $6,000 grant from the City in 1982. The Coalition worked with the Task Force on Battered Women and New Concepts Self-Development Center to bring the preventive education program to Milwaukee's minority communities. The Ms. Foundation bestowed two grants of $10,000 each on the Women's Coalition in 1983 and 1984 to continue its program. A $5,000 grant from the Stackner Foundation funded a pilot program which provided preventive education to the mentally retarded. The Coalition worked closely with the local Association of Retarded Citizens on this program.56

The Coalition's Community Education staff served on many advisory boards such as the Childhood Sexual Abuse Council and the County's Child Abuse and Neglect Task Force. One such committee contributed to further institutional changes. Community Education workers joined with WAR and members of the City Task Force to form the Subcommittee on Child Abuse and Sexual Assault of the Milwaukee Public Schools' Critical Health Problems Curriculum Advisory Committee. The Subcommittee's 1981 recommendations for preventive and intervention measures on child abuse and sexual assault resulted in review and revision of administrative procedures for handling such incidents within the school system. Subcommittee members also won the inclusion of preventive education on sexual assault and child abuse in the schools' "Human Growth and Development" curriculum.57

The Women's Coalition formed a Task Force on Pornography as another result of Take Back the Night. In the late l970s, feminists nationally began to expose the violent and degrading images of women found in pornography. Some claimed that pornography constituted an anti-woman ideology and led to acts of violence against women. Under the direction of Elizabeth Matz, the Pornography Task Force concentrated on educational efforts. From 1979 through the 1980s, members presented slide shows, "Pornography and Violence Against Women" and "Media Images of Children and Child Sexual Abuse," to community groups. They also organized informational picketing at Milwaukee's pornographic bookstores and theaters.58

In the photo at left, Elizabeth Matz, who headed the Coalition's Task Force on Pornography, performs her musical review "Lyrics That Ruined Our Lives," a wry feminist take on the sexism in pop music. Edie Herrold accompanies her on bass.

In October 1980, the Coalition sponsored a lecture featuring Linda Marchiano and Kathleen Barry. Marchiano, the former porn star Linda "Lovelace," spoke of her brutalization by movie pornographers, and Barry, author of Female Sexual Slavery, lectured on the prevalence of prostitution and pornography around the world.59 When State Senator Walter Chilsen introduced legislation to redefine and stiffen Wisconsin's obscenity statutes in 1983, he sought the support of the Women's Coalition. Restrictions on lobbying prevented such involvement, but a larger consideration intervened. Reflecting the strong civil libertarian ideals of its activists, the Coalition declined to support Chilsen's effort. 60

The Women's Coalition sponsored additional TBTN demonstrations in 1980 and 1983. Each protest was accompanied by educational programs and demands for attitudinal and institutional changes. For instance, the 1980 protest demanded self-defense classes in all schools and shelters for prostitutes who sought to leave their situations. Take Back the Night in 1983 called for decreased sensationalism of violence in the media. The 1980 protest won the endorsement of the Milwaukee Common Council, which declared September 28-October 4, 1980 "Stop Violence Against Women Week." The City also allocated $1,500 to defray expenses of the march. 61

The TBTN protests organized by the Women's Coalition clearly had a significant impact on Milwaukee. The protests functioned as a safety valve to release the fear and anger which existed in the community over multiple incidents of sexual brutality and murder. Community education on sexual assault and domestic violence, initiated by the Women's Coalition as early as 1973, intensified and broadened in scope. The special political nature of violence against women was stressed by Coalition feminists who linked rape and battering to women's subordinate position within society. Finally, the mobilization of community sentiment by Take Back the Night led to numerous institutional reforms in government and in the criminal justice and educational systems.

Go to the Conclusion and Appendix

Back to Jamakaya's Home Page

Notes

1 Interview with Debra Trakel, Probation and Parole Agent for the State of Wisconsin, by telephone to her Madison, Wisconsin office, July 22, 1987.

2 Interview with Judi Selle, staff member of the Women's Coalition (1978-81), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, December 4, 1986; Women's Coalition, Inc., Board of Directors' Meeting Minutes, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, February 12, 1978, p. 2.

3 Emma Goldman, "The Traffic in Women," Anarchism and Other Essays (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1969), p. 179.

4 "Prostitution," Common Ground, August, 1978, p. 1.

5 Selle, interview; Women's Coalition, Inc., "Myriad Program Proposal," Milwaukee, Wisconsin, submitted to the Wisconsin Bureau of Community Corrections (BCC), February, 1978, pp. 4-5; Renee Wallace, "Myriad Project," Common Ground, August, 1978, p. 4.

6 Coalition, "Myriad Proposal," 1978, pp. 2-3.

7 Wallace, "Myriad Project," p. 4; Wisconsin BCC, "Purchase of Services Contract with the Women's Coalition," Purchase Order Number J-8, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 1, 1978; Coalition, "Myriad Proposal," 1978, pp. 4-9.

8 Coalition, "Myriad Proposal," 1978, pp. 7-9; Women's Coalition, Inc., "Myriad Program Proposal," Milwaukee Wisconsin, submitted to the Wisconsin BCC, February, 1979, p. 4; Wisconsin BCC, "Purchase of Services Contract with the Women's Coalition," Purchase Order Number K-17, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 1, 1979.

9 Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services, Prevention and Wellness Program, "Purchase of Services Contract with the Women's Coalition," Purchase Order Number GAI 39972, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 27, 1979; "Plan to Help Prostitutes Wins Funding Approval," Milwaukee Sentinel, June 20, 1979; "Program Backed to Aid Prostitutes," Milwaukee Journal, July 11, 1979; "A Way Out, With Help, for Prostitutes," Milwaukee Journal, April 2, 1980; "A Myriad of Options to Life on the Streets," Milwaukee Journal, June 15, l980; Women's Coalition, Inc., "Report of the Myriad Program," Milwaukee, Wisconsin, February, 1981, p. 2.

10 Wisconsin BCC, "Purchase of Services Contract with the Women's Coalition," Purchase Order Number GAA-A-34, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 1, 1980; Sylvia London, "Myriad: Will She Die?" Common Ground, July/August, 1981, p. 14.

11 Judi Selle, "A Visit to Taycheedah -- Prostitutes Speak Out," Common Ground, July/August, 1981, p. 12.

12 Interview with Denise Crumble, Employment Specialist for the Women's Coalition (1980-81), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 17, 1987.

13 Ibid.

14 Trakel, interview.

15 Ibid.

16 Interview with Ruth Bukowiecki, Development Coordinator for the Women's Coalition (1980-82), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 27, 1987.

17 Trakel, interview.

18 Wisconsin BCC, "Quarterly Status Reports of the Myriad Program," Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 20, 1979, February 1, 1980.

19 Ibid.

20 BCC, "Quarterly Report of Myriad," November 20, 1979, p. 1.

21 Bukowiecki, interview.

22 Ibid.

23 Selle, interview; Bukowiecki, interview.

24 Coalition, "Report of the Myriad Program," February, 1981, p. 1; Bukowiecki, interview.

25 "Reflections," Common Ground, October, 1978, p. 5.

26 Coalition Board Minutes, February 12, 1978, p. 2.

27 Laurie Shields, Displaced Homemakers: Organizing for a New Life (New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1981), p ix.

28 Women's Coalition, Inc., "Who Are Displaced Homemakers?" Fact sheet of the Displaced Homemakers Project, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1978, p. 1-2.

29 Interview with Cheryl Kader, Coordinator of the Women's Coalition's Displaced Homemakers Project, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 23, 1987.

30 Ibid.

31 "Mother's Day Action," Common Ground, May/June, 1978, p. 20.

32 Cheryl Kader, "No Longer Alone," Common Ground, October/November, 1978, pp. 6-7; Kader, interview.

33 Kader, interview.

34 Ibid.

35 Interview with Georgia Ressmeyer, Fundraiser for the Women's Coalition and Consultant to the Displaced Homemakers Project (1978-80), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, December 7, 1986.

36 Kader, interview.

37 Interview with Carol Parkes, Coordinator of Displaced Homemakers Project and Outreach for the Women's Coalition (1980-82), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 28, 1987.

38 Interview with Sharon Taylor, Director of Employment and Displaced Homemaker Services for the Interfaith Program for the Elderly, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 29, 1987.

39 Ibid.

40 "Body of Woman Found Near Antigo," Milwaukee Journal, May 31, 1979; "Charge Filed in Slaying of Psychiatrist," Milwaukee Journal, June 22, 1979; "Suspect Seized in Girl's Killing," Milwaukee Journal, June 11, 1979; "Police May Have Lead to Young Woman's Killer," Milwaukee Journal, July 7, 1979; "Racine Man Held in Brutal Sex Killing," Milwaukee Sentinel, August 14, 1979; "Woman, 78, Stabbed to Death," Milwaukee Journal, August 11, 1979; "Crippled Widow Stabbed to Death," Milwaukee Sentinel, September 8, 1979; "Homicides on Increase," Milwaukee Sentinel, November 23, 1979.

41 "Women Hold Rally in War on Rape," Milwaukee Journal, July 1, 1979; "Group Offers Only Plan for Anti-Rape Unit," Milwaukee Sentinel, February 16, 1980; Interview with Virginia Ray, former Director of the Women's Coalition and Organizer for Women Against Rape (1979-84), by telephone to Madison, Wisconsin, October 20, 1987; Interview with Sue Deutsch, Women's Coalition Outreach Coordinator (1979) and Director of the Community Education Project (1981-85), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 29, 1987; "Action Yes/Violence No," Milwaukee Journal, October 7, 1979; "Verdict: Wrong Views on Violence Seen," Milwaukee Journal, October 15, 1979; "Group Stresses Violence of Crimes Against Women," Milwaukee Sentinel, October 15, 1979.

42 Coalition Board Minutes, June 10, 1979, p. 1; Women's Coalition, Inc., Take Back the Night leaflet, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October, 1979.

43 Coalition, Take Back the Night leaflet.

44 "Inside Take Back the Night," Common Ground, November/December, 1979.

Most of this issue of Common Ground reviewed the Take Back the Night march "...in order that the herstory of the event will not be lost..." (p. 2). It was valuable in writing this account.

45 "Breier Questions Reports of Rapes," Milwaukee Sentinel, October 6, 1979.

46 Ibid.

47"2,500 Women March to Protest Violence," Milwaukee Sentinel, October 20, 1979.

48 "Rally Unites 2,500 to Take Back Night," Milwaukee Journal, October 20, 1979.

49 Ibid.

50 Common Council of the City of Milwaukee, "Resolution to Create the Task Force on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence," File Number 79-4444, Office of the City Clerk, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 15, 1979.

51 Ibid.

52 "Alderman Back Creation of Rape Task Force," Milwaukee Sentinel, November 7, 1979; "Task Force on Rape Supported," Milwaukee Journal, November 7, 1979; "Rape Unit: A Battle Over Tactics," Milwaukee Journal, November 11, 1979; "Feminists Fight City Hall -- Task Force Formed," Amazon, December/January, 1980, pp. 7-8; "The Ginny Tapes," Amazon, December/January, 1980, pp. 47-48.

53 "Group Offers Only Plan for Anti-Rape Unit," Milwaukee Sentinel, February 16, 1980; Interview with Ann Ranfranz, Director of the Witness Support/Anti-Rape Unit in the Milwaukee District Attorney's Office (1985-1987), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 10, 1987.

Ranfranz noted increased sensitivity among officers handling sexual assault cases in spite of the Police Department's outmoded structure.

54 Interview with Terry Perry, Director of the Citywide Task Force on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence (1987), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 3, 1987; "Judge's Scolding Outrages Women," Milwaukee Journal, March 15, 1984; "Reluctant Judges Agree to Session," Milwaukee Journal, March 30, 1984; "New Domestic Violence Policy Leads to Leap in Crime Reports," Milwaukee Journal, October 5, 1987.

55 City of Milwaukee, "Purchase of Services Contract with the Women's Coalition," Purchase Order Number 700113, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 18, 1981; Deutsch, interview.

56 Deutsch, interview.

57 Lee R. McMurrin, Superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools, "Report on Recommendations for Preventive and Intervention Measures Relative to the Area of Child Abuse," Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 14, 1981; Deutsch, interview.

58 Linda Hoelzer, "Pornography," Common Ground, January/February, 1980, p. 6; Gloria Steinem, "Erotica and Pornography: A Clear and Present Difference," Ms., November, 1978, pp. 53-57; Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (New York: Perigee Books, 1979); Laura Lederer, ed., Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1980); "Violence, Pornography Upset Women," Milwaukee Journal, November 8, 1979; Interview with Elizabeth Matz, Director of the Coalition's Task Force on Pornography:(l980-85), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 20, 1987.

59 "She Survived Her Ordeal as Lovelace," Milwaukee Journal, October 4, 1980; Kathleen Barry, Female Sexual Slavery (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1979).

60 Matz, interview.

61 "TBTN Demands," Common Ground, October, 1980, p. 12, and October, 1983, p. 2; Common Council of the City of Milwaukee, "Resolution Appropriating Funds to the Women's Coalition for Take Back the Night Rally, and Declaring the Week of September 28-October 4, 1980 as 'Stop Violence Against Women Week,'" File Number 80-989-a, Office of the City Clerk, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 3, 1980.

Go to the Conclusion and Appendix

Back to Jamakaya's Home Page

All contents of www.jamakaya.com © 2016 by Jamakaya unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.