By SHEA STASKOWSKI
More than 275 men donned women’s high heels Monday afternoon in an effort to wipe out violence against women.
Hosted by the Mississippi State University Outreach and Sexual Assault Services, the third-annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event gives men an active role in the fight to end violence against women.
More than 25 campus and community organizations and 279 men — 116 more than the last year’s event — walked a rather painful mile around MSU’s drill field to pay homage to the adage, “you can’t appreciate another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”
When Outreach and Sexual Assault Services Director Dr. Beatrice Tatem started the event three years ago, she never imagined it would turn into such a large community-wide event.
“The first year we did this, we were hoping for 25 men — that was our goal,” Tatem said. “It’s kind of emotional and heart-warming to see the response this year. It lets me know that people are aware there is an issue and they are eager to do what they can to take part.”
Before the walk, graduate student Braxton Stowe shared some startling statistics with the men gathered.
“By time the this walk is over, 30 women [throughout the nation] will report a sexual assault,” Stowe said. “It’s important for men to stand up for women to end sexual assault.”
Stowe added that nationally, 720 rapes occur each day — one every 40 seconds — and 70 percent of them are not reported. He then led the men in pledge that said: “I pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about sexual violence. I pledge to challenge other men to recognize that they can be powerful without making others feel powerless.”
“It is my hope that with more discussion and awareness, the more empowered we will become as a community to be active in our protection of one another,” Tatem said. “In essence we can all become positive, active bystanders.”
Mayor Parker Wiseman took part in last year’s walk, and was proud to be back in heels again Monday.
“It’s been almost a full year since I donned my last pair of heels, and it feels really good to be in heels again for this cause,” Wiseman said. “I think it’s a great event for our community because it’s important for men to show that violence against women will not be tolerated.”
The Oktibbeha County Sheriffs Department joined the walk for the first time this year.
“I see so many victims of abuse and I really have a problem with men mistreating women— It really, really bothers me,” Sheriff Dolph Bryan said.
And though a recent leg injury kept Bryan from being able to participate in the walk, his deputies jumped at the chance to take part.
“As police officers, we see this issue every day on the job, so it’s important to be a part of the cause to raise awareness in our community,” Sheriff Brett Watson said.
Now that the Walk a Mile event has exceeded Tatem’s expectations, she is now turning her attention to what else can be done to eradicate violence against women.
“It challenges me to think about what is next. We’ve had the walk, now let’s have the talk,” Tatem said. “You can have a movement, but that doesn’t necessarily mean action. Now it’s time to see what they as young men, what action they will take so it’s not just a one-time event, but a part of their daily lives.
“In a sense, I feel like we have these eager and very enthused young men; now let’s take it to the next level.”
Tatem hopes to start hosting speaker series on campus to engage the college men in conversations about ending violence against women.
“As our college men strive to be productive citizens, they will learn this is their issue too, and we want to hear from them and have them be a part of the (those conversations),” Tatem added.