Four former female employees of Cure Violence, a violence prevention organization formerly known as CeaseFire, have accused senior administrator Ricardo “Cobe” Williams of sexual harassment in a federal lawsuit. Gary Slutkin, founder and CEO of Cure Violence is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, filed Wednesday before a press conference.
During the conference, held at the Chicago Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson Blvd., former employee Angalia Bianca spoke about her experiences with Williams during her time at the company.
According to Bianca, in 2014 Williams brought her into his office and was instructed to perform oral sex on him. After refusing, she was allowed to leave but did not file a complaint for fear of termination.
“I was hesitant to return to that room, but I felt like I had no choice,” Bianca said. “I have lost 40 pounds, which my doctor has said is because of the stress from Williams.”
Bianca said Williams tried to assault her twice more, and she almost submitted the third time but ultimately refused. Williams then began to exclude Bianca from work activities, retaliating against her and “ruining the work [she] loves,” Bianca said.
Lakisha McGowan, another former employee, also shared her experience with Williams at the press conference. According to McGowan, while in a car with Williams he began touching himself and eventually climbed on top of her before she pushed him off and told him they were both married.
McGowan said he was dismissive of her complaints afterward and implied that if she didn’t remain silent she would lose her job.
After McGowan filed a complaint against Williams with UIC, she was told that he was transitioning from a rougher life and she should not worry about it, she said at the press conference.
“As long as I kept my mouth shut, I knew my job was safe,” McGowan said at the conference. “It was my word against [William’s], who had so much power.”
Ameena Matthews, a former employee of CeaseFire and a Chicagoland area violence interruption advocate, said at the conference she had told others, such as Slutkin, about her experience with Williams. She said Slutkin told her she was overreacting and did nothing about her complaints. Although both Matthews and McGowan appeared at the press conference and are named in the lawsuit, only Bianca is named as a plaintiff in the complaint.
“I trusted the institution to protect me and the women I work with,” Matthews said. “This is a betrayal from a supposed anti-violence organization. They did not practice what they preached.”
A fourth woman’s claims have been included in the lawsuit though the senior administrator is left unnamed and did not attend the conference. According to prosecutor attorney Ed Mullen, the woman also had experienced sexual harassment involving Williams and, after filing a complaint with UIC, was told his behavior was to be expected.
Williams also told her “stitches get snitches,” according to Mullen. The woman claims she was passed over for promotions after filing the complaints against Williams. Mullen added that Williams is still employed at Cure Violence and is currently on administrative leave.
According to a statement from UIC, the school has only received one charge of alleged misconduct in relation to Cure Violence, which it is currently investigating, and has not yet been served with the federal lawsuit.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (14th), a frequent supporter and advocate for Cure Violence, spoke out on her support for Bianca, Williams and Matthews at the press conference.
“To hear that they are questioning [Bianca’s] integrity, quite frankly, does permanent damage to [Cure Violence’s] credibility,” Cassidy said. “They need to restore that faith, and they need to do it now.”