Most don't choose to walk a mile in high heels, but Saturday afternoon a group did just that while walking through downtown San Luis Obispo. The walk was a symbolic representation of the often painful road to recovery survivors of sexual violence experience.
"I'm going to have a painful mile long walk and it's going to be for those survivors," Sophie Marsh, RISE Outreach and Events Manager, said.
High heels - sparkly, striped, even fuzzy - were neatly lined and organized by size for men to find their perfect pair. But the heels meant much more than a fashion statement, they're a statement to victims of sexual or intimate violence they're not alone.
"Sexual assault isn't a fun thing to talk about and it's hard to have that conversation on a day to day basis," Marsh explained.
Marsh says the statistics of sexual and intimate partner violence in San Luis Obispo can be shocking. According to recently released statistics, RISE SLO served 1,052 clients, provided 2,207 hours of counseling, and assisted with 190 restraining orders in 2017.
Making the call to the RISE Crisis Hotline can be difficult though, Marsh says. "It's a really hard call to make to take that first step and accept that you've experienced - that you've had this traumatic experience."
First responders, like San Luis Obispo City Fire Chief Garret Olson knows first hand the difficulty of responding to domestic violence calls. "I can remember as a young firefighter paramedic responding to emergencies for victims of sexual and intimate partner violence and I could remember how insufficient my services felt. Providing care to their physical wounds knowing emotional trauma they felt ran much deeper and longer."
Fire Chief Olson serves as a member of the RISE Board of Directors and says coming out to support the "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" event is important. "To come out here and be a little bit more vulnerable I think is a really important message to survivors and that we really welcome their voice."
The money raised by the event is crucial to funding services for survivors Olson says are available, but often overwhelmed. "I think right now the backlog of people trying to get counseling services is somewhere in the order of four to six weeks."
So he, and many others, put on their pumps to raise money and awareness by walking a mile in "her" shoes.
"I think the coolest part for me was walking around holding up a sign. Mine said, 'see something say something'," Cal Poly student representative Winston Chang said. Chang was only expecting to attend to the Cal Poly Men and Masculinity booth. The organization works to establish "positive masculine gender norms on campus" and also responds to "men involved in incidences of gender-based violence with restorative support" on Cal Poly's campus.
Instead of watching the action happen, Chang was recruited to take part in the event with a friend picking out his pair of heels. "I think everyone kind of has an idea that is this question of is sexual assault a problem out there but I think until you really hear about it from someone close to you or you have a personal experience with it, it's not as vivid as I think it should be," he said.
For others, it wasn't their first high heeled rodeo. Michael Marsh was picking out shoes for his second walk, saying walking in heels "can be uncomfortable, it can be scary." Despite the chances to of rolling an ankle or catching a heel, Michael said "this is a hoot. This is just a real fun way of raising money for a really great organization."
By the end of the event, RISE SLO had raised $3,400 dollars which will be used to fund services like counseling and therapy for survivors of sexual violence according to Marsh. She also says the organization is working to secure more funding for those services and more to increase their availability.
For more information on the services offered by RISE SLO click here. You can also call the RISE toll-free 24-hour crisis line at 855-886-7479.
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