Violence against women is an unfortunate reality in most parts of the world, but Vickie Sides is doing all she can to eliminate it. She has served as Coordinator of the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline, a program of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, since it first began. The hotline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing crisis intervention over the phone and offering information and referrals to survivors of sexual assault. For the past 10 years, Vickie, 38, has grown the program from one staff person (herself) to seven. But not only does she seek to help survivors, but she also seeks to challenge the conditions that make violence against women a reality . Through her work at the YWCA, she is active in promoting equity and eliminating oppression, in keeping with her belief that rape exists because patriarchy exists. To learn more about Vickie and the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline, check out this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.
YWCA Metropolitan Chicago/ Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline
University of Chicago
University of Chicago-1890, (Sexual Violence Prevention Program-1992)
Vickie R. Sides
Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline Coordinator and
Director of Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention at the University of Chicago
Born in Benton Harbor, Michigan
Lived in Chicago since 18 months old
Masters in Social and Cultural Studies in Education and Human Development
Chicago State University
Bachelor’s in Psychology
University of Chicago
Director of Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention
YWCA Metropolitan Chicago
About the non-profit
The YWCA is the oldest women-focused social service organization in Chicago. Our services are focused in the areas of sexual violence and support services, economic empowerment and early childhood services. Our mission to eliminate racism and empower women is actualized through all of our programs and services. The YWCA officially incorporated “the elimination of racism” into our mission statement thirty years ago, when we recognized that we could not achieve the empowerment of women without working for equality for all women, regardless of their color or creed.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
As Coordinator of the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline (since its inception) and the initial (and only) staff of the original program, I have managed program growth and development over the past ten years.
I supervise a staff of seven tough, brilliant, politicized, kick-ass women.
I organize and coordinate 24-hour/seven-day coverage for the hotline utilizing staff and volunteers. I train hotline staff and volunteers to provide telephone crisis intervention and information and referral service to survivors of sexual assault and their significant others. I get to work in collaboration with other rape crisis centers in and around the city. I work hard to ensure proficiency and quality of program and services and accountability to the community.
I do trainings and presentations for almost anybody who asks. This is all the fun stuff and why I love my job.
The not-so-fun stuff: I collect, record and maintain statistical data. Maintain program files. Provide professional training and institutional advocacy to medical, law enforcement, educational and social service personnel. Promote visibility of the hotline and raise awareness of sexual assault issues through public speaking engagements, presentations and training, and the use of informational materials. I give important support to hotline staff and peripheral support to program volunteers.
Most notable milestones
Watching the program grow from one staff person to seven!
Getting to work with the most awesome and amazing group of women ever assembled during the life of the program!
Working with these women to develop the best 56-hour volunteer training program ever!
Being part of an organization whose mission is the “empowerment of women and the elimination of racism” and who not only articulates that mission but works hard to ensure that it is evident in all aspects of programming!
What’s the niche?
At the Hotline, what makes us unique is the way we approach our work. We do not simply seek to bandage the wounded, we seek to challenge they very circumstances that make violence against women routine and acceptable in our society.
We believe that rape exists because patriarchy exists.
We also believe that in order to eliminate violence against women, we need to understand and eliminate oppression and inequity. We have not yet accomplished this in through our day-to-day work but we do provide an analysis of the systems and a space for interested parties to become part of a movement. It is our hope that this space will provide the impetus for the use of collective action to eliminate rape. My former co-worker Rachel Caidor used to say that our goal is to “work ourselves right out of a job.”
What’s the biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenges are limited resources available for women’s programming, such as ours.
In recent years, government priorities have shifted and funds that previously went to social programs have been redirected.
This means that we have no resources to grow our programs, even though the epidemic of violence against women continues to grow. In addition, we are challenged with very limited language capabilities on the hotline. In a city as large and diverse as Chicago, it is frustrating not to be able to serve all of its citizens.
What’s in store for the future?
Expanding our language capabilities.
Becoming more visible (and a greater resource) for the entire Chicagoland community.
Incorporating more content on working with sex workers and with transgender communities into our training and programming.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
The best way to keep a competitive edge is to consistently focus on the quality of the services you are providing. I am much less concerned with volume than I am with quality. When we work to “improve” our services, we are not just talking about increasing the numbers of people we serve; we are also talking about how well we are serving our clients/community.
Guiding principle in life
I have several but I would say that one important guiding principle that is most evident in my life is:
“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I cannot remember the name of the author I first heard this from several years ago but it is pretty much the way I chose to live. There are far too many “big” things to consume our time and energy. Why use yourself up and wear yourself out worrying about the small stuff?
Yardstick of success
My yardstick of success is the degree of personal satisfaction I feel in my life. I know it sounds corny and cliché but I really do feel like that is the most important thing. This personal satisfaction is derived from several areas and measured holistically. It’s not just about my job, although it is important to me that I do good work and do it well. It’s also about my family and relationships, my feeling spiritually connected, my physical health, my emotional well-being, my finances, and yes, even my wardrobe and my appearance. I am not high-maintenance by any stretch of the imagination, but I do like to feel good about how I look
Goal yet to be achieved
Getting a Ph.D. and reading all the books out there that I am afraid of dying before I get a chance to read them.
Best practical advice
Women should always act as smart as they are. The thing that ruffles my feathers most in life is when I encounter/observe smart women who do not use what they know to make decisions about relationships, money, education, their professions and any other areas of their lives. I often find myself saying to friends, relatives, co-workers, etc… “Act like you know what you know!”
When women fail to do this, they ALWAYS live to regret it.
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
My partner on grad school: “You can do it. It is simply a matter of perseverance. All of these people around you everyday are no smarter than you; they have simply decided to stick it out through the process. If they can do it, you can do it too.”
Dr. Esther Jenkins, Professor of Psychology at Chicago State University, my undergraduate alma mater. Esther is a brilliant, grounded, well-rounded woman who does not sweat the small stuff! When I stepped tentatively into her office several years ago to tell her “I think I want to get a Ph.D.,” she simply said “Well, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t have one. All the rest of us are walking around here with one.” That simple statement helped to demystify the process for me and allowed me to see that a life in academia is something that I can have access to.
What motivated you to get started?
Actually, I came to this work quite accidentally 10 years ago. I was looking for a job and there was a position at the YWCA that looked interesting. It wasn’t until I showed up for the interview and the woman interviewing me explained how this could be my opportunity to “become part of a movement to end violence against women” that I began to see the significance of getting involved in this work. In the interview, I remember her trying to convince me that it would be a good move for me. She said some important things about the potential to affect people’s lives in important ways through this work. By the time I got off the train going home, I had decided to take the plunge and the rest, as they say, is history.
Like best about what you do?
Teaching and training, raising awareness, seeing new people come to this movement either as students doing internships, graduates seeking jobs, volunteers, people changing careers, etc. I love to see passion for a cause sparked in people.
Like least about what you do?
Restrictions imposed by working within a 501C3 structure, limited human and financial resources, the way statistics and data are sometimes used and accountability to funding entities.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A schoolteacher or a superstar!
What was your first job?
As kids, we were often paid by family members and neighbors to do little chores for them. I think this motivated us and taught us that our labor was worth something. My first job outside the house was working for Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 16. It was short-lived because my grades went down halfway through the school-year and my mother decided a job was not more important than school!
Biggest pastime outside of work
Hands down – eating! I love food, maybe even a little too much. I love trying new foods and new restaurants and sharing that experience with family and friends. I also love to travel and will likely do more of that in the future when I am making the big bucks!
Person most interested in meeting?
Bell Hooks. Because she is a brilliant theorist on race, class and gender and I want to know how and how much that translates to her everyday life. I also want to ask her why issues of sexuality are conspicuously absent from her work.
Leader in business most interested in meeting?
Oprah Winfrey. She is obviously a brilliant businesswoman and I want to hear more about how she built her empire because that happened after she found “success” in journalism, news reporting, acting and hosting a talk show. I want to know about her journey in building the media dynasty over which she presides.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- My knees can pop completely out of their sockets.
- I was adopted by my great-aunt, which made my mother younger than my grandmother. Try having a 10-year old explain that to people!
- I have a very bad memory but an uncanny ability to remember numeric sequences. I know my credit card number by heart. I remember the license plate of my first boyfriend’s car and I still remember the telephone number of my two best friends in high school, event though I have not seen either of them in about 15 years!
Three characteristics that describe you
- I am fiercely loyal.
- I am driven by the desire to see equity and justice in the world.
- I am a “classic” middle child.
Three greatest passions
- Reading political theory
- Learning new things
- Giving people the tools to think more critically about the world in which they live.
“Killing Rage” by Bell Hooks
Anything by Audre Lorde
The spiritual reconciliation of the Black church to Black LGBT people, whose gifts and monies have been used by the church but who have been excluded from full participation in the life of the church. More importantly, if they are never reconciled to the organized church, I want them to (in the words of Dr. Yvette Flunder) “Go and get your God back.”
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Ira Glass and the Radio Show “This American Life” or maybe Oprah!