By April Walsh
An army of men teetering down Trade Street in high heels turned heads on Saturday, September 18th. Many women walked with them as well, but with a little more poise and balance. They said they walked with a common goal: to crusade for the awareness of sexual violence.
“I’ve never worn heels before but if this is what it takes to get some attention for this issue- I’m in,” said Patrick Fagan
The issue is sexual violence. The most recent police records report that there were 93 reported rapes in 2011. According to RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization, it is suspected that 54% of sexual assaults are never reported. The number of reported sexual assaults in Winston decreased from the previous decade but not drastically.
Family Services, Inc. organized Winston- Salem’s fifth annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event where men and women walk a mile in high heels. Family Services, Inc. aims to promote the safety and well-being of adults and children within the community. The organization especially supports community members impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault.
“More than anything, this is a community event that means different things to different people. For some it is a fundraiser, for some it is part of the grieving or healing process. To all, it is a powerful demonstration of empathy and solidarity,” said Michael Heelan, the Development Coordinator of Special Events for Family Services, Inc.
“Walk a Mile in Her Shoes “started in 2001 by Frank Baird according to the non-profit’s website. Baird is a rape crisis advocate and marriage and family therapist. The first walk consisted of only a few men walking in heels in a park in California. Baird continued the walks and eventually this became a national effort. One of the purposes is to raise money for local rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, sexualized violence education.
The organization website says the walks should help men and women alike see what it is like to walk in the shoes of sexual assault victim. Men do not traditionally wear high heels and so this walk should put them in the mindset, physically and emotionally, of what it is like to be a female victim.
The march to end sexual violence grew and takes place throughout the country. A small entry fee, determined by the organization hosting the event raises money for the cause. Thousands of men and women throughout the nation have worn high heels for an organized walk in their local area.
The walk raised awareness and funding for Family Services, Inc. programs such as counseling, a shelter, a crisis phone line and victim advocacy. Local organizations with similar purposes can hold these walks, which is how Family Services, Inc. brought Walk a Mile in Her Shoes to the Triad. One of the programs within Family Services, Inc. known as The Safe on Seven Domestic Violence Center, offers special services to domestic violence victims such as legal advocates, victim advocates.
“The walk signals that’s our community is prepared to address this problem- that we are willing to stand with the women of our community and end the unequal treatment of women and stop the violence,” said Heelan.
Heelan anticipated about 150 people would attend the walk. Instead, Heelan says he was pleasantly surprised that an estimated 500 people participated.
The walk drew members from the local community and college students as well. Heelan says they changed their marketing strategy to target a younger crowd.
“This is a very grassroots event, and as such, social media was our best friend. We had a big presence on Facebook over the past few months. We attended student activity fairs at Wake Forest and held a rally at The University of North Carolina School of the Arts.”
Over seventy-five Wake Forest University Students, about twenty of them from the student run organization PREPARE, attended the walk. PREPARE stands for Policy Group on Rape Education, Prevention and Response. They all wore matching t-shirts decorated with the organization logo and high heel for the event.
“We work to prevent sexual assault, debunk rape myths and encourage healthy relationships. This walk is always something we like to be a part of,” said Lauren Friezo, a junior member of PREPARE.
Donnie Shoaf, the Communication Specialist for Family Services, Inc. was happy to see the Wake Forest University baseball team at the walk as well.
“I doubt I will ever forget this day. The heels are hilarious. The cause is not funny though. I hope that people see how important healthy relationships are. That’s why I’m walking,” said Patrick Fagan.