Our mission is to change the world by producing innovative, accessible and research-supported programming that challenges oppressive attitudes and shifts behavior.
Passion for Change
We bring a profound passion to starting these important conversations and do it in a very unexpected way. Our engaging programs get students, military personnel and employees talking, sharing, and yes, even laughing about the behaviors, stereotypes and cultural attitudes that contribute to these social issues.
Grounded in Research
Our approach is fully supported by research in education, psychology and cognition and led by trained educators who also happen to be dynamic, charismatic speakers. It all boils down to a proven, simple truth: laughter and honesty have the power to initiate change. Only when defenses are lowered, are people truly able to reflect on behaviors and beliefs, and begin a positive transformation.
Creating a no-judgment zone in which people can thoughtfully reflect on toxic thoughts they might have or behaviors they may have engaged in.
Using straightforward language and realistic scenarios to build trust and defuse the tension that can arise around the subject matter.
Leveraging 25 years of campus-based advocacy and over 40 years of expertise in program development while delivering research and experience-driven content.
Stepping outside the traditional prevention models to lead, letting the latest and best research guide us, and applying rigorous evaluation of our initiatives.
Dr. Gail Stern is the co-founder of Catharsis Productions, co-author of the non-stranger rape prevention program Sex Signals, and author of the programs, Beat the Blame Game, and Teaching Rape as a Moral Issue. She has been a SME for the White House and each branch of the Armed Forces on issues related to sexual violence prevention.
Dr. Stern and colleague Heather Imrie are the co-creators of the innovative Force of Awesome Institute, a program for violence prevention educators that enables them to design and deliver more effective presentations in their own communities. Based on Dr. Stern’s and Ms. Imrie’s extensive research and experience, the Institute incorporates a combination of lecture, group work, and coaching, effectively transferring the training capacity to participants.
A large part of Dr. Stern’s expertise strays from traditional prevention education. She began performing stand-up and improvisational comedy at the age of fifteen, and continued performing throughout her college and professional career. In the early 90s, she was asked to utilize this skill when training over 800 Chicago Police sergeants on “cultural sensitivity.” She discovered quickly that the strategic use of humor enabled her to connect with her audience, not only in building rapport, but also in enabling them to hear challenging information. This experience fueled the rest of her academic career, and she focused her studies and research on using humor to reduce emotional and cognitive resistance to challenging issues.
Dr. Stern is also the creator of the sexual assault prevention programs, Beat the Blame Game; Sexual Violence Prevention as a Moral Issue; The Canary in the Mineshaft: What Rape Jokes Signal About Our Culture; and, Fight Fire With Funny: Using Humor to Reframe Rape as a Moral Issue. Dr. Stern served as the director of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Campus Advocacy Network from 1991-1998, providing crisis counseling and court advocacy to victims of violent crime.
Christian Murphy founded Catharsis Productions with Gail Stern in 2000. He serves as Chief Executive Officer for the company where he oversees the strategies and implementation of the company vision, mission, and its core values. In addition to co-creating SEX SIGNALS with Dr. Stern and serving as the original main male presenter for the program, Mr. Murphy focuses primarily on the aesthetic and creative content of the programs.
He has also served as the chief architect of the adaptation of the civilian script for military audiences, engaging with staff in each branch of the military in a diligent effort to have each script reflect the military jargon, customs, and courtesies of that branch of service. Mr. Murphy also co-wrote with Dr. Christopher Kilmartin and co-produced the U.S. Army sexual harassment video “Amateur Night,” which is now seen as part of the sexual harassment refresher course for U.S Army Soldiers. He serves as a major contributor to the online trainings designs, in particular, U GOT THIS!. Mr. Murphy worked as a professional actor for over twenty-five years and as an award-winning playwright. His one-person show, Meditations, won the 1998 Factory Theater Shut Up and Laugh! One-Act Play Festival, where he met Dr. Stern. Shortly thereafter he and Gail began developing “Sex Signals” (then known as “The Sensitive Swashbuckler & Other Dating Myths”) through Downstage Left Program at Stage Left Theatre in Chicago. Mr. Murphy also served as the founder and original Artistic Director of Voices in Harmony, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that paired urban youth with theater and film professionals to collaborate one-on-one in creating and performing personal stories. He has been trained as a certified rape victim advocate through Chicago’s Rape Victim Advocate program. He designed a peer-education training program on gender issues for Lambda Chi Alpha and its undergraduate fraternity members. He served as the co-chair on the MEN (Men Endorsing Non-Violence) subcommittee for Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence and co-created its highly successful Male Ally Pilot program for students at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He received his Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Business Administration degrees from the University of Notre Dame. He currently serves on the board for the non-profit Stage for Change and teaches the Our Whole Lives (OWL) healthy sexuality curriculum to eighth graders. He is happily married to Lauren Murphy, co-owner of Laurenceleste, makers of some really hip, organic personalized baby blankets. Visit them at www.laurenceleste.com. Christian is also known for his extraordinary Chewbacca impression.
Catharsis Productions’ founders, Dr. Gail Stern and Christian Murphy meet at a one-act play competition.
Combining their theater experience, advocacy, education and flair for comedy, Stern and Murphy create and produce “The Sensitive Swashbuckler & Other Dating Myths” at Chicago’s Stage Left Theater to rave reviews.
Catharsis Productions is formed.
“The Sensitive Swashbuckler …” is renamed “Sex Signals,” which has been seen by 1.2 million people to date on college campuses and military installations.
Catharsis Productions wins the Moxie Award for creative efforts to combat sexual violence from the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Catharsis Productions receives the Visionary Award from Rape Victim Associates.
Sex Signals is added to the U.S. Army’s Basic Training.
Sex Signals is awarded “Speaker of the Year” from Campus Activities Magazine.
Sex Signals is awarded for second year in a row “Speaker of the Year” from Campus Activities Magazine.
Dr. Gail Stern is awarded the EVAWI Media Excellence award for her decades of work changing the cultural dialogue around sexual violence, harassment and gender stereotypes.
Meet our Office Staff Members
Director - Human Resources
Kenya works at Catharsis Productions as Human Resources Manager. Kenya earned a Bachelor’s in Communication from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Il and a Master’s in Organizational and Multicultural Communication from DePaul University right here in Chicago. She also holds a Professional in Human Resources Certification. Kenya has worked in both higher education and professional services. Kenya is a wife and mother who loves spending time with her family and friends. She is very excited to be working at CP with a great team of people.
Director - Business Development & Marketing
Jetaya McGhee is a business development and marketing professional with more than 17 years of corporate, private, and non-profit experience. She earned her BS in Political Science and Pre-Law from Southern Connecticut State University and her M.B.A. from Mercer University. Jetaya began her career in the private sector where she concentrated on client development, firm messaging, project management, and new business. She has collaborated with partners in the United Arab of Emirates, Italy, and Trinidad/Tobago as the team lead of an international marketing committee with a new business focal point. She has served in leadership roles within high-profile organizations, focused on business strategy, data analysis, relationship building, and organization visibility.
Director - Contract & Client Relations
Ben Murrie, M.S. serves as the Contract & Client Relations Director. Having joined Catharsis in 2003, he now oversees and maintains the integrity of almost 3,000 annual presentations. After graduating from Pepperdine University, Ben worked as a primary counselor in a psychiatric hospital. He earned his M.S. in Educational Psychology from Oklahoma State University, where his work concentrated on the intersection of moral development and social psychology. From this, he developed “Going Down”, a program that explores how pornography affects cognitive and behavioral functioning. Ben has been a keynote and featured speaker at various Military conferences as well as the National Sexual Assault, Advocacy in Action, and EVAWI Conferences. He has also conducted trainings for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and represented Catharsis on NPR’s “To the Point” and TIME.com. He is married to the imminently gracious Shawna Murrie, with whom he has two rambunctious sons.
Coordinator - Online Training Services
Huda Khan moved to America at a young age and has been living in Florida for more than 20 years now. Huda graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences from the University of Florida in 2018 and earned a Masters of Science in Data Science in 2021. She enjoys working at Catharsis Productions as an Online Training Services Coordinator. She has work experience in the field of Education as an Instructor, Learning Consultant, Intervention Specialist, and Curriculum Developer. When Huda isn’t spending countless hours of the day glued to her computer screen, she enjoys going on long road trips and visiting national parks across the country. She also enjoys photography and traveling to explore new cultures and languages. She is currently fluent in three different languages.
Manager - Client Relations
Tara Sparks began working for the company in the summer of 2013. In Tara’s mind, the stars had aligned, creating the perfect position that matched her experience and interests. As a lover of the written word, Tara pursued and earned a Bachelor’s in Communication from the University of Miami and a Master’s in Written Communication from National Louis University. Professionally, her altruistic nature always caused her to take positions in the health and education fields because she loved using her communication, organization, and planning skills to help others. She feels honored to work with a great group of people who are all committed to changing the world one presentation at a time. When she’s not managing schedules and organizing presentations, Tara’s still probably planning something: her next writing project, a travel adventure, life. Email her and she’d be happy to plan something for you too!
Manager - Program Development
Cara Thaxton was born and raised in Chicago, IL surrounded by laughter, love and chaos. She is the youngest of five kids, and an aunt to eight nieces and nephews. Cara comes to Catharsis Productions with over fifteen years of experience working for social justice, both in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work earned her the 2003 Advocate of the Year award from the State’s Attorney’s Office. In her career, Cara has educated thousands of individuals, from elementary school students to the media, on rape prevention and intervention, with a special focus on the LGBTQ community and hate crimes. Cara’s unique educational style is authentic, entertaining, and compassionate. Cara is thrilled to have found a home with Catharsis, a company that shares her dedication to ending violence and her approach to education. Cara holds a Bachelors of Arts in Sociology and Communications from Aurora University.
Senior Manager - College Online Programming
Barbara Wells is overjoyed to be a member of the sales team at Catharsis Productions. Barbara has worked in the field of campus interpersonal violence prevention since 2007, and is passionate about campus safety. She has a diverse background in sales, marketing and law. Barbara has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Boston University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Barbara likes to spend her spare time with her two children, and is an Ambassador for EverWalk, a national walking initiative. After spending most of her life in New York, she recently traded in her snow shovel and winter coat for the sunshine and palm trees of Southwest Florida. When not wrestling gators she can be found adding to her shell collection, singing show tunes with far more enthusiasm than talent, or quoting Springsteen.