Community leaders and Cal Poly students alike stepped out Saturday against sexual assault for the fourth annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.”
The Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention (SARP) Center coordinated the event against sexual assault, which featured more than 100 participants in the mile-long walk beginning at Mitchell Park and extending up to Santa Rosa Boulevard and Higuera Street.
Men involved with the event were encouraged to don women’s footwear. Many men not only opted for heels but also had SARP Center volunteers paint their toenails to match their shoes.
Clad in sparkly silver three-inch heels with matching silver nail polish, mechanical engineering senior Brad Joaquin participated in the event for the first time. He borrowed the shoes from his girlfriend, SARP Center staff member Shannon Chafin.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he said after the walk and his feet bore marks from the heel straps.
Second-year participant and business graduate student Adam Franklin chose a more sensible pair of blue flip-flops. “Last year I wore three-inch heels and I think I had blisters for a week,” he said.
Coordinator Jenny Adams introduced county supervisor Jerry Lenthall to the crowd before the walk. He made the crowd laugh with his specially ordered, open-toed, pink heels in size 15.
“I want to do what I can to show my support and make a statement,” he said. Lenthall participated in the event last year as well.
Choice of footwear aside, coordinator Jenny Adams spoke to participants before the event and reminded them of the purpose of the event.
One of the chosen speakers, Ron Waltman with the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department, reminded the crowd that “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” takes place across the globe. Waltman provided examples of decreasing sexual assault statistics and encouraged the participants of the positive effects while standing in front of the crowd in black pumps.
“Voltiare said, ‘Man is guilty for the good they do not do,’” Waltman said while getting his toenails painted before his speech.
“I bought the shoes in L.A. because I knew no one would ask any questions,” he said. “They even asked if I wanted a clutch to go with them.”
Participants were in high spirits as they paraded through downtown, many carrying signs in English and Spanish against sexual assault. Families walked dogs and carried children upon their shoulders while completing the route.
Cars honked in support of the walkers several times along the route. Volunteers stood on street corners to direct participants back up to Mitchell Park.
“Eliminating sexual violence liberates men and women,” said Alesha Doan, a participant and Cal Poly political science professor.
Doan brought the youngest event participant, her 15 month-old son, Spencer. He also wore pink strapped girl’s shoes along the walk.
“Sexual assault is not a women’s issue,” Doan said. “It’s a societal issue.”
Women ages 16 to 24 are the most vulnerable group to experience sexual assault. Adams said this is in part due to “increased experimentation and exposure” in their lives.
But men are not immune to the risk of sexual assault. Adams said as many as one in six men (compared with one in three women) will experience some form of sexual assault in their lives.
April was sexual assault awareness month, and many events took place to remind people of the need for education on the issue. Cal Poly featured Remember Week and Take Back the Night during the month.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), overall sexual assaults have dropped 22 percent nationwide. An American is sexually assaulted every two and a half minutes according to RAINN’s fact sheet on their Web site.
The SARP Center provides statistics that cite the majority of victims (75-80 percent) knew the attacker before the incident. Most sexual assaults occur in the home with drugs or alcohol contributing to the incident in more than half of the cases.
The effects of sexual assault extend far beyond the incident. Victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression and are six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims are also 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and four times more likely to contemplate suicide.
However, even with increased awareness, sexual assault crimes remain the most under-reported crime, Adams said. Current estimates available at the SARP Center show that as few as one in nine or even one in 11 victims of sexual assault actually report the crime.
The SARP Center is the only program focused on sexual assault education and recovery in the county. It runs programs for volunteers to talk to junior high school students about sexual harassment and to operate a 24-hour hotline available for county residents to talk about sexual assault experiences.
Adams said the SARP Center received calls from 314 individuals during the 2005 year. Of that number, she estimated that 129 were people calling about crimes that occurred in 2005. It is common for victims to call the SARP Center for the first time years after an attack has taken place.
Law enforcement agencies countrywide only reported 81 incidents of sexual assault in 2005. Other cases go unreported by law enforcement, but victims may seek help from the SARP Center.
In addition to new calls, Adams estimated that the SARP Center received over 500 calls last year from repeat callers about previously reported incidents.
To contact the SARP Center, call (805) 545-8888 or visit www.sarpslo.org.