More than 80 people took an unusual walk for women at Altamont High School Friday.
”There’s an old saying that until you walk a mile in somebody’s shoes, you don’t know what they’ve gone through and that’s kind of the symbolism we’re going for,” said Mary Harrington, executive director of SAFE (Sexual Assault and Family Emergencies). “In light of the Steubenville case, we want people to know what isn’t OK.”
SAFE held the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes at the school as an effort to raise awareness of sexual assault and rape against women in the community. Along with speakers and demonstrations, a mile walk around the school that included men wearing bright red high heels was held to show solidarity with women who have suffered abuse.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is a national event but this is the first time the event has been held in Altamont. Jill Wright, prevention education coordinator with SAFE, said she hopes hosting the event in Altamont will help to let women and children who have been abused see that they have the support of their community.
”We serve seven counties, and we have almost 300 cases of children being abused a year,” she said. “We have advocates and therapists and lawyers. We want people who have been victimized to know we’re here, and we have resources.”
The first step to letting the community know those resources are available is to involve the community. Students at Altamont High School were part of a contest to design a T-shirt for the event and painted heels for decoration. Harrington said involving children and teens in the group’s message was important to make sure assaults against women happen less. Rather than waiting for something to happen before awareness of the problem is raised, local residents are taking a proactive approach.
”In Steubenville, that terrible thing was raised through people knowing what happened,” she said. “This was raised through awareness and this is a positive. The kids were really into it and this is positive, and we’re excited about that.”
Wright said she hopes the event not only gives a voice to those who have been affected by sexual assault or abuse but also those who can help them. She said the most important thing a person can do to help is listen.
”If someone comes to you and tells you that they have been assaulted, the No. 1 most important thing to do is believe them,” she said. “If you don’t, they’re more likely to never tell anyone again and they’ll just sit in silence with it.”
Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or firstname.lastname@example.org.