The center provided high heels for men who did not have their own. Photo by Ryan Sidarto- Mustang Daily

Heads turned when a large group of men turned up in Mitchell Park wearing high heels for “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” Saturday.

The San Luis Obispo Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention Center (SARP) held the eighth annual walk at the park as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and to raise money for their programs helping survivors of sexual assault. The local event is part of a larger international movement started in 2001 to make men a part of the solution to stop gender violence.

Ron Moore is a board member at the center. He said he was disappointed he only made it part way in his high heels because they cut open his foot. Moore had a pedicure in preparation for the walk.

“My nails are painted, and this was the first year they had shoes big enough for me,” Moore said laughing.

The center had a table of shoes for men who didn’t have their own. Moore has been doing the march every year since 2005. About 50 men strapped on heels and made the mile walk. Including supporters, the event hosted 200 people this year, its biggest turnout.

Moore said he became involved when his daughter was director of the SARP.  Moore also has a personal interest in the cause against sexual violence. Moore choked up when he spoke about growing up in a “crazy” household and being a survivor. He said there weren’t any programs like SARP in the 1950’s and 1960’s to help people.
The center started when volunteers held meetings in their San Luis Obispo garages in 1975. Today they operate a 24-hour crisis line, peer counseling and education programs.

Volunteers are trained in sexual assault counseling and support staff in community education programs and fundraisers like the Walk a Mile campaign.

Samantha Keller-Thomas has been volunteering at the center for a year. She said she found out about it through the women’s studies minor at Cal Poly. Keller-Thomas said programs are focused on men becoming more involved in the solution to gender violence, and it was great to see so many show up for the walk.

The center sponsors programs to educate boys and men in the community about how to stop sexual assault and domestic violence. Austin Miller heads an outreach program for boys through SARP. This was his first time participating in the walk. He said he made it all the way in his heels, even though he didn’t train for the race.

Miller said the education program, My Strength, is geared toward high school boys to change the perception of what it means to be a man.

“We want to create a healthier masculinity,” Miller said. “We’re exposing them to attitudes other than violence, control and domination in the media.”

Miller said it’s crucial for male students to know about preventing gender violence. Ninety-two percent of sex crimes are against women.  San Luis Obispo is home to more than 20,000 college students.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, one out of four college women were assaulted in 2008.

San Luis Obispo’s Center provided services to 78 people ages 18 to 24 last year according to its website, but they also didn’t know the ages of 109 other callers. And its statistics show the majority of sexual assaults go unreported.

Moore said he’s proud of student involvement on and off campus. He said the staff and volunteers are a god-send with the work they do for survivors of sexual violence.

The image of men tottering around in high heels in the park is a stark contrast to the dark backdrop of sex crimes. Keller-Thomas said it may seem silly, but it’s a good way to shed light on the topic. Moore said seeing the growing involvement restores faith in masculinity.

“Real men wear ladies shoes, just not very well,” Moore said.

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