Content warning: There are mentions of sexual violence in this story.
Searching for sexual health can be a confusing and isolating process, with steep barriers ranging from severe stigma to blatant misinformation.
The Daily reported on STIs and HIV through Evanston Public Library and Howard Brown Health Screening series this fall, but the city and local areas have different resources to offer. So The Daily created this guide to connect residents with sexual health resources and organizations in the Evanston and Chicago areas.
Read on to learn how these sexual health organizations can help – and how they’re working to remove the stigma surrounding sexual health care and education.
Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault
“We will never be able to address ending sexual violence … unless we have rooms in hospitals that are educated about trauma and are full of people who represent the communities they serve.” – Liv Harmening, Educator and Lawyer
The Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault is a community health organization focused on preventing sexual violence through education and community activism while empowering survivors through advocacy and counseling. His services serve communities in Cook and McHenry Counties on the North Shore.
The organization’s legal and medical attorneys are available 24/7 for sexual violence survivors who need help in hospital emergency rooms or navigating the criminal justice system and managing their cases.
Harmening said providing these advocates to survivors is especially important in countering harmful, sometimes insensitive attitudes in hospitals.
The center also has a strong focus on reaching the communities through local programs that include educational programs both in and out of schools and events at community centers in the area. Harmening said this local outreach effort is a critical step in getting people involved in advocacy.
“We have to do better to give people this immediate action,” she said. “A call-to-action is an even better way to raise awareness.”
Zacharias Center for Sexual Abuse
“We’ve definitely adjusted our service delivery to be very trauma-focused, and we’re working very closely with other community partners to integrate our care.” – Christine Berry, Head of Services
The Zacharias Center for Sexual Abuse works against sexual violence and promotes trauma-informed care through prevention and intervention tactics. On the prevention side, the center offers educational programs for children in schools as well as vocational training. With Intervention, it also engages in medical advocacy in hospitals, operates a 24/7 support hotline (847-872-7799), and offers group and individual counseling services. One location of the Zacharias Center that provides counseling services is in Skokie.
The Zacharias Center attaches great importance to trauma-informed care, both through voluntary training and practical exercises. Berry said this sensitivity and awareness is especially important in helping sexual violence survivors and educating the community about prevention.
“Over 70% of the population has experienced trauma in their lifetime,” said Berry. “We really need to integrate trauma-informed care into every possible profession so that we can become a much more trauma-informed society.”
For those looking to get involved, the Zacharias Center is offering 40-hour volunteer training courses at its Lake County location this January that will teach attendees how to serve as a medical attorney, support line operator, or instructor.
Howard Brown health
“We know that STIs and HIV carry a lot of stigma, and we believe that stigma is more dangerous than HIV itself.” – Erik Roldan, Director of Marketing and Communications
Howard Brown is one of the largest LGBTQ + organizations in Chicago, providing a variety of healthcare services to this community in locations across the region.
Howard Brown provides HIV / AIDS services such as testing and guidance on access to health care. It also has a sexual health clinic, provides counseling, provides primary health care for LGBTQ + patients, and runs a youth education program.
Along with his extensive citywide health network, Roldan said Howard Brown is focusing on outreach and confidentiality to connect with patients and combat stigma.
“We’re always involved in public outreach … in the communities in which we operate,” said Roldan. “It is important for us to be reachable by all means.”
For the Evanston area, Howard Brown’s closest clinic is 6500 North Clark St., Uptown. It also has 10 other locations across Chicago.
“Our services are aimed at anyone who has ever experienced sexual violence … whether it was last week or 25 years ago, we will see each other regardless of the circumstances.” – Erica Hungerford, Chicago office manager resilience
Headquartered on North Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago and an office on the North Side closer to Evanston, Resilience offers free counseling services that include up to 20 therapy sessions for survivors, family, and friends.
The organization works for the survivors at every step of their journey. Their medical attorneys are on call to assist survivors in the hospital right after an attack, while attorneys help survivors navigate the criminal justice system and ensure they receive compensation for medical bills.
Resilience also offers voluntary work. Anyone can complete 60-hour resilience medical attorney training and serve as an emergency room medical attorney.
Center on Halsted
“The COVID pandemic doesn’t mean we don’t have an HIV pandemic.” – Erica Gafford, Director of HIV and STD Testing and Prevention Services
the Center on Halsted is a space for LGBTQ + communities in Chicago that offers a wide range of programs, including free sexual health services.
The center provides access to health resources for people living with HIV and advice on access to pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a drug that can reduce the risk of HIV. It also offers limited availability of HIV testing, so calling ahead is highly recommended.
The center operates the state of Illinois’ HIV / AIDS and STD hotline (800-243-2437) for urgent situations as well HIV Resource Center which provides more comprehensive information.
Since the pandemic began, Gafford has found many health organizations overwhelmingly shift their focus to fighting COVID-19, leaving those seeking critical treatment for HIV with insufficient resources.
However, Gafford stressed that Center on Halsted is working with patients to return their focus on sexual health care and remove barriers to finding such care.
“Because of the stigma, people don’t even get the information they need,” she said. “It’s still the greatest threat we face.”
“Our goal was to get the videos where young people are online and make them as accessible as possible.”– Angela Maske, coordinator for strategic projects at lawyers for young people
Launched in 2016 by Advocates for Youth, AMAZING is a project to “take the awkward out of sex education” by providing young people with carefree, age-appropriate videos about young people’s sexual health. AMAZE has published more than 120 animated videos on YouTube covering a range of topics from sexuality and safe sex to social media and LGBTQ + topics.
His channel now has more than 200,000 subscribers and 54 million views.
AMAZE has become especially important as a virtual resource for parents and educators who want to fill the gaps in sex education for young people, said Maske.
“The severity of a resource like AMAZE became even more important (during the pandemic),” she said. “It enabled us to see the breadth of sex education … It’s about creating information that will help young people lead their best lives holistically.”
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– NU educators for sexual health concerned about the new provisions of the Federal Title IX