Dozens of men shuffled, limped, wobbled and stumbled like fledgling birds, as they made their way through downtown Modesto on Saturday wearing bright red high heels.
“Yes, this is quite a challenge; I think heels should be outlawed,” said Modesto Police Lt. Steve Stanfield, walking in full uniform alongside Mayor Ted Brandvold. “But it is all for a good cause so every sore step is worth it.”
Walk a Mile In Her Shoes is a fundraiser for Haven Women’s Center and intended to raise awareness about the causes and effects of – and remedies for – sexual assault and domestic violence. April also is sexual assault awareness month.
After being led in stretches and getting a crash course on strutting in heels, the crowd of more than 300 participants was addressed by Haven Executive Director May Rico.
“You are willing to be uncomfortable for a few hours because it’s worth it and I want to ask you to remember that when you take those shoes off to keep going to uncomfortable places and challenging victim-blaming conversations when you hear them,” she said.
Last year Haven served nearly 400 survivors of sexual abuse; 45 percent of them were under 18 and almost 80 percent of them were girls.
“The story those stats tell us is that the less power you have in our society the higher your risk of sexual violence,” Rico said.
The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event was started in southern California as a way for men to show their support for victims of sexual violence. Haven started holding the event in Modesto four years ago and Rico said it has grown in popularity every year.
The organization’s main fundraising event, more than $42,000 was raised in preregistration; Rico said more than 50 additional people signed up the day of the event. Women had walked alongside men in previous years but this is the first year they, too, registered and helped raise funds.
Many of the participants had done the walk before and even brought their own shoes, although most used loaner pairs provided at the event – sizes seven to 16, heels kitten to stiletto.
It was Brandvold’s second time dong the walk and he offered some advice to Stanfield: The worst pain comes the day after. “I don’t think your toes are supposed to bend like that,” he said.
The northern chapter of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers & Troopers motorcycle club brought participants in from out of the area. Member Tim Pruitt came from Vacaville to show his support.
“It’s terrible,” Pruitt said about halfway through the walk. “But it helps you appreciate not just what women have to go through in heels but just being a woman.
He said he’d likely do it again next year and encouraged others to sign up saying, “Just being here and this energy and just understanding what we are here for, getting that time to reflect, has more impact than the pain. I would say do it even if you don’t put on the heals, but at least try it.”