What started out as a challenge to men to walk their talk against sexual violence is taking a step toward inclusivity. In a change of pace, Our VOICE, Buncombe County’s sexual assault and abuse support center, is asking the community this year to turn its annual Walk a Mile event into a people’s march on Saturday, May 2.
“Asheville is such a great, diverse and supportive community, and we wanted the event to be more reflective of our community,” she says. “In addition to men, we are also encouraging women and children to participate,” says Angelica Wind, executive director of Our VOICE. “Sexual violence affects everyone. It isn’t just a women’s issue.”
Each year about 500 people participate in the event. This year, with the expanded community focus, Our VOICE expects around 600-700 walkers.
The event is about walking the walk in someone else’s shoes — someone who has been impacted by sexual violence, she says. That single mile is about the journey, not necessarily about having to wear a pair of high heels.
Any pair of shoes will do, says Wind, who is, nonetheless, looking forward to seeing how men up the ante each year with their shoe choices and decorations.
“Sexual violence and assault are at times very difficult topics to discuss, so men in high heels is a somewhat lighthearted way to raise awareness around rape, sexual violence and gender-based violence,” she says.
Wind plans to walk in a pair of men’s shoes to represent the males in her life who have been affected by sexual violence.
Ashevillean Nita Walker, 70, is participating in the event for the first time this year. It isn’t about fancy shoes, she says, or even wearing someone else’s. Walker plans to wear her own as a rape survivor.
“I will walk because each time a survivor takes any action to show she or he will not be silent, a step toward personal healing is made, and society moves a bit closer to stopping the suppression of violent sexual crimes,” says Walker, a member of Womansong of Asheville and a volunteer on the Our VOICE board of directors.
She’s also walking for other victims of sexual violence — the woman who was raped a month before she was by the same man, a friend in a nursing home who can’t speak for herself and a classmate’s daughter whose rapist is still at large, says Walker.
Walker will participate for them, and all the women, children and men who live in fear because their rapist has not been prosecuted, she says.
Dennis Gibson, 46, of Black Mountain has participated in the Walk a Mile event for the last five years. An Asheville-based attorney, he says he walks not because he has been personally affected by sexual violence but because he thinks the event supports a great cause and one that needs attention.
“I’m not typically a touchy-feely kind of guy, but I got involved with the event because of the work that Our VOICE does and the importance of bringing the topic of sexual violence out,” he says.
Everybody is affected by sexual violence whether they know it or not, says Gibson. Perpetrators in these kinds of circumstances rely on a code of silence — the expectation that victims aren’t going to speak out partly because of the stigmatization that they experience.
Gibson doesn’t wear high heels in his day-to-day life but does keep a pair in his closet for the yearly event. And, even though the event is moving toward an all-inclusive people’s march, he says he will continue to wear heels.
It is important to make the discussion of sexual violence more palatable by having an event like this where discussions can take place and where it doesn’t feel like such a heavy topic, says Gibson, who is also on the Walk a Mile event planning committee.
Walker says, “I believe that we cannot prevent any crime from happening until everyone realizes the impact that it has, not just on the victims, but also on the families, friends and the entire community.”