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Men walking in heels raise awareness of sexual assault

Adam Thorpe, from left, Ben Dols, Kyler Olson and Chris Alle, all members of the Snap Fitness team, wear women's shoes as they walk Saturday on the Willmar Middle School track. They were participating in the third annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. The event is held to raise awareness of sexual abuse and assault. Tribune photo by Ron Adams2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Some of the 36 men walked in scandals, some in pumps, others in high heels and a few in their own shoes.

Regardless of the footwear, all participants walked, jogged or ran to raise awareness and funds to provide safety and healing for victims of abuse and sexual assault during the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event Saturday morning at the Willmar Middle School track.

The event is part of a 10-year international movement in which tens of thousands of men have slipped into women's shoes and raised tens of thousands of dollars to support their local agencies that provide services to victims of rape, sexual assault and gender violence.

Locally, this was the third annual walk sponsored by Safe Avenues of Willmar. The agency works for social change and provides shelter to those at risk of domestic abuse and survivors of abuse or sexual assault including children in the west central area.

Most walkers wore a black T-shirt with a pair of red high heels and statement across the top saying "I am strong enough to walk a mile in her shoes.''

The shoes and statement have been the logo for the event during the past two years, said Kasey Baker, sexual assault victim advisory program coordinator at Safe Avenues.

"It just really says something because you don't often see men dressed in heels,'' Baker said. "I've seen people out in the community wearing those and it's a conversation-starter, and that's what this event is all about, to get them talking about things.''

Baker told the walkers, along with sponsors, community partners and volunteers that Safe Avenues was grateful for everyone who was present to join the fight to end sexual violence.

"Last year, your efforts helped Safe Avenues and the Sexual Assault Victim Advocacy Program open a second location where victims of sexual violence could be served here in Kandiyohi County,'' Baker said.

By making this a reality, Baker said, a higher level of confidential services can be provided to victims of sexual assault.

"It also allows for enhanced security to our shelter residents in that it's less traffic to our secure facility,'' said Baker. "Finally, we are closer in proximity to the courthouse, the county attorney's office and the hospital.''

The walkers heard from Sarah Corder-Guggisberg of Clara City, who worked toward passage this year of a state law called Jacob's Law, named after her son, which requires both parents to be told when a child is a victim of neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse outside of the home.

Before the walkers started out on their four trips around the quarter-mile track, emcee Chuck Blum of Olivia told them 10 things that men can do to prevent men's violence against women.

Also, he gave them some walking tips. Participants could select from more than three dozen donated pairs ranging from scandals and pumps to high heels.

Kyler Olson, 25, of Willmar joined his buddies from Snap Fitness to raise awareness of the issue. Olson finished first after walking the first lap and running the last three laps in dark pumps.

"They weren't too bad to wear,'' he said. "It hurts a little on the balls of the feet. Running actually felt better than walking. It kept them loose a little bit.''

Adam Ness from Swift County, who wears about a size 14, couldn't find any shoes so he walked in his own shoes. Ness said he wanted to walk because it's a worthy cause.

Renville County Attorney David Torgelson of Olivia has participated for three years in a row because he believes in the cause.

"It's very good in that it assists programs. Our office does the prosecution but this program is extremely beneficial and helping support victims through the court process,'' he said.

Torgelson said the pair of white scandals he selected this time worked out better than the heels he wore the last two times.

"It wasn't too bad although I can kind of feel it in my lower leg here,'' he said. "I'll do it again.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150