Men walk in her shoes

At the Sherman Oaks Galleria, things were getting positively rowdy, as men lined up to don women's heels; some low and casual in a sandals style, and some as spiked and as high as they come, and marched down Ventura Boulevard united in a common cause.

They march along with women and children wearing "sensible" shoes and other men who are there for support, but disinclined or unable to walk a mile on unnatural arches.

This is the 5th Annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event, held on Saturday, April 23, in protest of "sexual assault and gender violence" and used as a fundraiser for the Valley Trauma Center, which serves the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys. Hundreds of participants pay a $50 registration fee individually, or $500 for team efforts, receive a "Put Yourself In Her Shoes" T-shirt, trade their shoes in for heels (unless they brought their own pair), and literally walk a mile in pursuit of social reform. At the end of the line, foot massages and free lunches awaited the walkers, along with prize drawings and commemorative programs for extra incentive and recognition.

"Not even a car crash could hold me back," said Aaron Gordezky, a sophomore from Cleveland High School, about marching in his silver stilettos. "I have a mother and a sister and I'm terrified that they could be raped." He then said that he has had many friends who have been victims of sexual abuse and violence and that he found his heels "comfortable" while taking a stand against further abuse.

The march is designed as a family event, and includes live music, balloons, and clowns, alongside an array of hairy legs standing proud atop a stunning variety of lady's heels - a few of them painfully ill-fitted to behold - but extremely effective in drawing the curiosity, and admiration of many an on-looker. And ultimately that is one of the major goals of this event.

"Part of the problem of trying to educate someone is getting them to listen," said Frank Baird, founder of the march and clinical supervisor of counseling for the Valley Trauma Center. "This way you attract attention and people see this going on, and they say 'what is that?' So you've already got somebody who's curious, and it starts out as talking about something light enough, enjoyable enough, and interesting enough that it continues, so you can start talking about the harder stuff; the stuff that nobody is willing to talk about."

Baird says that the silence surrounding the issues of rape and violence is an ongoing dilemma in constant need of address. But to establish programs, provide forums for communication, and counseling for victims, financial support is needed, and that is another on-going problem.

"Rape crisis centers are chronically under-funded," Baird said. The "Walk A Mile In Her Shoes" affair has triumphed as a fundraiser, providing the largest income "other than grants" to support the Valley Trauma Center. And they have encouraged other rape crisis centers to get involved and facilitate their own marches, which the Valley Trauma Center helps to organize, such as a march held in San Jose in the last few days.

Somewhere in America a woman is raped every two minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One in six women will experience a partial or completed attempt of sexual violence at some point in their lives, and one in thirty-three males will experience the same, as documented by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These statistics may be very low compared to the reality of the frequency of this crime because it is "the most unreported violent crime in America" as cited by the National Victims Center. In a national survey The National Victims Center discovered that only 10 percent of rapes of American women were reported to police. The U.S. department of Justice also found that 27.7 percent of college women reported sexual experiences since the age of 14 that met the legal definition of rape or attempted rape.

"We live in a culture that is very confused about sex," Baird said. "Sex is used to sell products, and market goods, and confuse people. Sex in our country is really seen as power rather than intimacy." And that is where Baird believes a lot of the problems begin. "What ends up happening is that people really have a lot of confusion around their own sexuality, and a lot of shame, and they confuse rape for sex."