A group of men walking around in high heels is usually cause for a good giggle. But the annual Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event in San Jose on Wednesday had a much deeper purpose.
The event raises awareness for sexual assault prevention and benefits YWCA Silicon Valley. On Wednesday evening, more than 250 participants raised around $68,000 while strolling around Santana Row in their favorite high heel shoes. Organizers say the money will help more than 1,100 sexual assault survivors over the next year.
Some in attendance say the event is even more necessary this year, in the wake of the recent sexual assault conviction and controversial sentencing of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner.
Bill MacLean of Los Gatos, walked the course holding up a sign. On it was the letter written by the victim to the judge in the Turner case.
"It's just so fresh in everyone's mind, yeah I printed up some of the choice words that she said, and I think they're important to have out here," MacLean said.
The annual event came hours after Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen sponsored new legislation on sexual assault sentencing.
Current state law allows a defendant convicted of sexual assault on an unconscious victim to be eligible for probation. Rosen said the proposed law would change that and require a state prison sentence regardless of the victim's awareness of the act.
"This means that a judge can't look at relative youth, nominal criminal history and means — characteristics shared by many college students — as mitigating factors and give probation," Rosen said.
He said the bill would make the sentence for sexual assault on an unconscious victim the same as for a conscious victim: three to eight years in prison.
"Sexually assaulting an unconscious woman is as serious as sexually assaulting a conscious person," Rosen said. "There should be no distinction between those because rape is rape. The trauma to the victim, whether conscious or unconscious, is often life-long."
Deputy Public Defender Sajid Khan, however, is opposed to increasing the minimum sentencing for all sexual predators. He counted himself among more than a dozen public defenders who are concerned that stricter sentencing guidelines will lead to mass incarceration.
"We’re limiting judicial discretion and their ability to take into account individualized circumstances into sentencing," Khan said. "We want a more holistic analysis of each case."
At the event Wednesday, YWCA Silicon Valley CEO Tanis Crosby said the proposed law was "heartening."
"This could be the moment we look back 20 years from now and say this is the moment we made long-term change to respond to and prevent sexual assault," she said.
There will be a hearing on the proposed law next week in Sacramento.