Walking a Mile in Her Shoes

Social Crisis: ’We have to create a society that is intolerant of violence’

It’s for the women, for the men who support them and for everyone’s future: Saturday, May 12, hundreds of Victorians will walk in high heels to put an end to sexualized violence.

Social Crisis: ‘We have to create a society that is intolerant of violence’

It’s for the eight-year-old girl who was instructed not to tell. For the young woman who won’t say anything because she blames herself for getting drunk. For the wife, the husband, the transgendered person whose partner wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

This is Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, and on Saturday, May 12, hundreds of residents around the city will gather in Centennial Square to strut unfamiliar footwear in an effort to say: enough. Whether or not we know what it’s like, we’re no longer willing to be a society that accepts sexualized violence — and our men will walk in stilettos to prove it.

“This is a fun event, but not a funny one,” says Tracy Lubick, resource development manager at the Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre, the group that hosts the walk every year. “Sexualized violence is difficult enough to talk about, and it can make people uncomfortable. The idea of wearing someone else’s shoes is a physical way to get through that: ‘yes, we’re uncomfortable, but we’re going to talk about it anyway’ … and we want everyone involved.”

The event is in its sixth year in Victoria. As of press time, 20 teams and 101 individuals have signed up to be part of the walk — including our own “Manic Monday” team for the second year running — which is up from last year’s 12 teams and 57 registered participants. But the real turnout happens on walk day. Last year, over 500 people attended the walk, and even prominent members of the community (like Mayor Dean Fortin) showed up in wedge platforms to prove a point.

This year promises an even larger turnout with members of VicPD rumoured to be showing up in patent leather heels. But while the shoes grab everyone’s attention, it’s not meant as an opportunity to poke fun — hence why the centre has re-branded the walk to include not just heels, but all types of shoes. This year’s mission is to up the educational aspect of the walk and be sure that people understand why we are all there.

“We know it takes a lot of courage to cross that threshold and come into a centre to ask for help,” says Lubick. “Events like Walk a Mile are a safe and accessible way to learn about the resources available to all survivors — and everyone is there to support you.”

As of 2012, an estimated one out of three women has experienced sexual assault. Those numbers increase when including all forms of sexualized violence. That means in every cluster of friends you see walking down the street, chances are at least one of them is a survivor. However, only six out of 100 women report cases, and the VWSAC sees about five people a week — which means an estimated 100 women in Victoria stay silent every seven days.

“This is not just a women’s issue — this is a social crisis,” says Quetzo Herejk, volunteer coordinator and prevention educator at VWSAC and Project Respect, the group’s youth division. “People hear the stats and think, ‘Oh that’s terrible, but thank God it doesn’t happen here.’ Hey Victoria, this isn’t Sleepy Hollow. It’s happening to us.”

In B.C., there is no statute of limitations on filing a sexualized violence case. Lubick says intakes do increase after the event each year, and the crisis line gets busier as survivors find themselves ready to access resources — some, decades after an instance has taken place. But whether the survivor is looking to report a case, access counselling or find their own form of closure, the centre can offer assistance.

“Of course no one can really put on a pair of shoes and know what it’s like to be a woman, but that hook is the beauty of the event — it gets everyone talking. It helps shift this issue into something we can discuss as opposed to something women should be shamed by,” says Herejk. “We still rely on the justice system to fix our problems instead of making this a community issue, but how will you feel safe walking to your car at night? We have to create a society that is intolerant of violence.”

When it comes to that intolerance, VicPD media spokesperson Cst. Michael Russell says the police department is grateful for the work that VWSAC does.

“We support the walk and the centre, 100 per cent. We’re in the business of getting perpetrators off the street, but that support is a crucial part of the process,” says Russell. “The Women’s Sexual Assault Centre plays an integral role in that, and we wouldn’t have the success rate we do without them.”

As in years past, organizers will have a playful array of large shoes on hand for anyone interested in walking in unfamiliar heels. Dr. Allan Wade, a Victoria-based family therapist, will give a keynote speech, and the Project Respect youths will perform spoken word. There will also be a festival of fun and fundraising opportunities in the square, aimed at the whole family: a kids zone, a placard-making station, educational booths, T-shirts, foot massages, treats and counsellors for anyone triggered or ready to talk.

The organizers admit plenty of people still see “rape” as something that happens when a stranger pounces out of the bushes. However, the modern definition of sexual assault as defined by federal law is “any unwanted sexual contact,” while sexualized violence is “anything that disrespects a person’s sexual being.”

While the definitions may sound vague, Lubick says that in itself speaks to the complexity of cases. And while we have definitely made improvements as a society, she says, centres like VWSAC are, unfortunately, still needed.

“Thirty years ago, we were still dealing with what counts as assault. Slowly, we’re getting away from ‘victim blaming,’ and this belief that women should just be able to ‘get over it’ and move on quietly,” says Lubick. “And we’re seeing more support for men to get together and ‘man-up’ against violence. We need that support, and men also need our support to show how valuable their role in this truly is.”

Over the years, various campaigns like the “No Means No” slogan have been changed to “Only Yes Means Yes” as societal beliefs continue to develop. There have even been catchy campaigns aimed at perpetrators: “If you think you may assault someone, have a friend walk you to your car.” But a lot of the work still comes down to the less-obvious messages we are sending men, and the messages we are accepting as a society, says Herejk.

“We have to think about how our sons are being told to treat and view women, and the impact that can have,” says Herejk. “Someone can be saying ‘no’ in a million different ways — they’re avoiding eye contact, they’re quiet, they’re resisting — which means they are not saying ‘yes’ in a million ways. We need to teach our sons and daughters that only an explicit, enthusiastic ‘yes’ is acceptable. Coming out to an event like Walk a Mile is a great way to start that conversation.” M

Join Walk a Mile in Her Shoes 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. (walk at 3 p.m.) at Centennial Square on Saturday, May 12. More information can be found at the Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre’s website: vwsac.com. Their crisis and info line can be accessed 24-hours-a-day at: 250-383-3232.   

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