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Dawes Park on Sunday was full of ‘80s songs, sunshine and men in stilettos, but the lighthearted “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event had a very serious purpose.
The Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault (NWCASA) hosted the 1-mile walk around the park Oct. 3, with men wearing 4-inch red stiletto heels, to raise awareness of sexual violence.
The heels represent a symbol of gender bias. Although NWCASA said that not all women wear heels and heels are not gender-specific, it said men wearing heels in an act of playful openness can lead to important conversations about the truth of sexual violence globally and locally. For the men who participated, it also shed light on just how difficult walking in heels can be.
Rebecca Plascencia, deputy director of NWCASA, has been co-hosting the event in Evanston for the last eight years alongside Evanston Police Officer Enjoli Daley.
“The event is all about tying in activism by taking this symbol of rape culture and the expectation that women wear heels,” Plascencia said. “It can start a meaningful dialogue.”
All of the money raised at the event goes to NWCASA to support survivors of sexual violence.
Officer Daley said that as a woman, a survivor of sexual violence and a police officer, she sees a lot of incidents firsthand and raising awareness can increase support for funding more resources.
“There has to be an understanding of sexual violence,” she said. “A lot of times people turn from it, nobody wants to talk about it, but it is something that is happening on a regular basis. There are people out here struggling and we need to support them.”
There were clotheslines of T-shirts strung between trees in the park with personal stories written on them from survivors of sexual violence. Plascencia said NWCASA has over 1,000 T-shirts in its office, gathered from events it conducts at schools all over the region.
The Clothesline Project started in 1990 in Massachusetts. Plascencia described it as a way for survivors to be heard and “let their silent screams out.”
She said it is important to recognize that the stories on the T-shirts are occurring here, as no community is immune from sexual violence.
Evanston Council member Peter Braithwaite and Mayor Daniel Biss were at the event to show their support.
Braithwaite did not walk in heels, but Biss took the three laps balancing in his stilettos but wasn’t fast enough, as he was beaten by Raffaele Signa, an Elmwood Park resident.
Signa, a college student, said he learned about the event from a classmate’s post on social media. He had never heard of it and decided to participate, and he had an advantage – this was not his first time walking in heels.
Unaware shoes were provided, Signa brought his own pair of black heels that were double the height of those the other three participants wore. But it wasn’t about winning for Signa; similar to all attendees, he wanted to show up for those in his life affected by sexual violence.
“I know people in my life who have gone through sexual violence, and I thought this would be something I could do for them to show my support,” he said.