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Woman Hopes A Real Life 'Chi-raq' Sex Strike Can Stop Chicago's Violence

By Kate Shepherd in News on Nov 19, 2015 8:10PM

A Chicago woman is hoping to stop the gang and gun violence plaguing parts of the city with a tactic that's never been tried before: a sex strike.

April Lawson, a publicist from Auburn-Gresham, is fed up with the apathy she's seen from men in the Englewood and Auburn-Gresham communities following the recent tragic deaths of 20-year-old Kaylyn Pryor and 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee.

Her call for a sex strike was inspired in part by the plot of the upcoming Spike Lee movie Chi-raq which is based off of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes.

"I'd been playing with it for a long time but what actually sealed the nail on the coffin for me were the shooting deaths of Tyshawn Lee and Kaylyn Proyor," she said in an interview. "Those happening hours apart and then seeing Spike Lee's Chi-raq trailer, it all came together for me. When I finished seeing it, I realized we need an actual sex strike."

She elaborated on that thought process:

"Taking sex off the table seems to get men more focused," she said. "There need to be some consequences. If that's what sparks you into action, fine. We need to hold them accountable for what happens to the women and children in the neighborhood."

Sex strikes have been effective historically, according to Lawson. Women in Pereira, Columbia held a ten-day sex strike in 2006 to get gang members to stop fighting. It's also worked in Togo, Liberia and the Philippines.

So far there are quite a few women stepping forward and joining Lawson's strike. About 49 women have signed her online petition and more women have verbally committed or are following the cause on Facebook, she said.

"It's a great start as far as I'm concerned," she said.

The "very courageous women" who've signed the petition range in age from 17 to 55 and they all have an interesting story to tell about their desire to strike, Lawson said.

Lawson's planning to hold a rally to gather women together on Monday Nov. 23. She can't monitor whether or not the women are sticking to the pledge, but she said she will act on faith and trust.

Lawson's strike and Chi-raq have sparked an interesting conversation, but the sex strike is just a cog in the wheel of the multi-tiered approach she'd like to take to stop the violence. Her hope is that a treaty between the gangs will come out of the strike.

"No one has come forward with this as a solution. I think it's provocative and that's a step in the right direction. It should lead towards actionable solutions," she said.

Ultimately, she'd like to see the community work together to end the gang violence. In addition to a gang treaty, she wants to see the men in every block club patrolling their block as citizens like the Guardian Angels, an international volunteer organization of unarmed crime-prevention patrollers, and community members talking to the aldermen about installing more cameras in certain areas of neighborhoods.

"Pull up you pants, put down the guns and at least have something where we can monitor," she said.

Some of the backlash Lawson's received has been reflective of our patriarchal society, she said.

"Men seem to think in this culture that it [sex] is a right and they're entitled to it rather than as a privilege. It's our biological imperative to choose the right kind of guy. We don't have to be in compliance with your views," she said.

The naysayers have two things in common, she added: They don't have an alternative solution in place and they have a profound fear of change.

Some of the most disturbing responses she's gotten to the strike are from men asking her if it will lead to rape.

"That's a reptile mindset," she said. "Are we going back to prehistoric times here?"

Her next steps are probably reaching out to community leaders to draft up the treaty and holding some kind of town hall, she said. There's a whole lot of work to do to stop the needless violence.

"The sex strike is the easiest part," she said. "The real work is going into the community and getting them to agree with you that our quality of life needs to be raised. To protect our women and babies and to make sure that Kaylyn and Tyshawn didn't die in vain."