GoldenGateXpress: Male students walk campus in heels to educate on sexual violence

Story originally posted to the Golden Gate Xpress on Oct. 29, 2013

By Erica Linker

Last Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, groups of San Francisco State University male students put a new spin on the phrase “walk a mile in her shoes,” as they walked campus in high heels to teach students about sexual violence and to collect donations for programs that aid abused women.

Male volunteers donned the ladies’ footwear to participate in the annual “Walk In Her Heels,” an event sponsored by The Sexual Abuse Free Environment (SAFE) Place on campus program, designed to raise awareness for sexual violence committed against women.

Members of the SF State baseball team, walk in heels for The SAFE Place and Men Can Stop Violence event titled: Walk in Her Heels. This event is a men’s walk to stop rape, sexual assault, and gender violence. Photo by Virginia Tieman, Golden Gate Xpress.

Members of the SF State baseball team, walk in heels for The SAFE Place and Men Can Stop Violence event titled: Walk in Her Heels. This event is a men’s walk to stop rape, sexual assault, and gender violence. Photo by Virginia Tieman, Golden Gate Xpress.

“I hope it was able to offer the campus community a chance to creatively express their thoughts and feelings regarding domestic and sexual violence,” said Nicollette Maristela, a student peer educator for the SAFE Place. “I want to see other students break the silence regarding this subject, telling folks that it’s okay to talk about it and reach out. I hope to see more male allies join the walk,” she said.

Male students from SF State sport teams, fraternities and other student organization came to school at 8:30 a.m. to collect designated shoes from the SAFE Place, and approached students on their way to morning classes to educate them about who sexual violence can happen to, what forms it comes in and what can be done to stop it.

This included statistics such as “one in four women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime,” and “women account for 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence,” according to William Barthe, a SAFE Place volunteer.

Throughout the day, the volunteers carried small boxes for monetary donations and at the end of the day collected more than $500 for Women’s Inc., a community-based agency that serves domestic violence survivors in San Francisco and the larger Bay Area. Walking around campus in a very different type of shoe was a slightly uncomfortable, but a rewarding experience, Barthe said. “The heels helped me start conversations with people while I was walking around campus for those who were interested in finding out what all these men were doing strutting their stuff around campus in pumps.”

After the volunteers spent the morning engaged with students around campus, the “Walk In Her Heels” participants gathered in the Malcolm X Plaza on the SF State campus at noon. The Plaza was surrounded by a clothesline strung with painted t-shirts that included phrases like “never give up,” “don’t’ hurt me,” and “love, love, love, love,” in support of the Clothesline Projects, a national program that brings attention to the problem of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence against women, and brings healing to those who have been abused, according to Maristela. The volunteers stood atop the platform where they shared statistics and stories with the crowd of students.

“I’d like to see people be more sincere about the issue,” said Elizabeth Agustin, another SAFE Place peer educator. “Many times we hear someone gets raped and it’s ‘their fault for wearing what they were wearing.’ People should be able to wear whatever the hell they want, and not be blamed for such a crime that they couldn’t have possible brought upon themselves,” she said.

It’s estimated that 20 to 25 percent of women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape during their college career, according to a study by the National Institute of Justice. However, the report insists that the problems is likely larger as less than five percent of women report the rape to law enforcement.

Agustin said she hopes that students at least took a moment to realize that women are at a great risk for experiencing sexual violence and abuse.

“Women who experience partner or sexual violence shouldn’t have to go through such trauma,” she said. “I also applaud guys who took the courage to walk in heels all day. It takes a lot to stand up for something and look funny or get laughed at, but we love our male allies.”

The men got their fair share of laughs, said Barthe, but he still feels that the event was successful in having an impact on the campus’ awareness of domestic violence.

“Some people laugh because that is just their first reaction to something that they do not know how to explain,” he said. “Most people were actually really interested in what it was that we were doing and wanted to know what statement we were making with our heels. I hope that students learned how big of an impact just a few men sporting heels can make on campus in helping spread community awareness to violence as well as promoting ally-ship between men and women in the fight against domestic violence.”

About Kate Spencer

Kate Spencer is pursuing a Master of Science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in the College of Communication and Information.

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