A crowd gathered at Cesar Chavez Park in downtown San Jose, on April 27, 2011, to participate in the Ninth Annual "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" march, to help fight violence against women. - Photo: Mat Luschek
Hundreds of men will be donning high heels and other women's shoes this evening for a walk aimed at raising awareness about the issue of sexual assault.
The annual "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" event, organized by the YWCA Silicon Valley, is a "lighthearted approach to a very serious issue," said Kelly Ramirez, the organization's chief development officer.
She said the YWCA Silicon Valley is home to a rape crisis center that serves the county, and that the walk has been happening every year for more than a decade.
"We felt 11 years ago that we needed to bring more of an awareness of the issue of sexual assault to our community," she said.
One goal of the march is to -- quite literally -- let participants experience what it is like to walk in someone else's shoes.
The marchers are mostly men, and Ramirez said they get harassed and catcalled as they walk.
"We recognized the fact that while women are not the only victims of sexual assault, women are more likely to be assaulted by males, so we need to get the men involved in the conversation," Ramirez said.
She said the march also aims to chip away at the stigma experienced by victims of sexual assault that makes them reluctant to come forward, noting that sometimes victims are blamed for somehow inviting the assault.
"Just because a woman is dressed nicely, or dressed a certain way, does not mean she is looking to get sexually assaulted," Ramirez said.
She said about 500 people participated in last year's march. Many men, including San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, have joined the march more than once.
She said the more times that men participate, the more comfortable they are with the idea of wearing women's shoes for half an hour. First-timers tend to be a little reluctant and say, "Give me the flip-flops," Ramirez said. "The ones that have participated for a couple of years, they show up early to get the highest shoes available.
They challenge each other," she said. She said the YWCA's collection of hundreds of shoes has "been secured over the years." "Trust me, we have really, really large shoes," she said.
The walk starts at Plaza De Cesar Chavez on South Market Street around 5:15 p.m., and marchers can pick up shoes starting at 4 p.m. Participants this year will include Reed and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.