Spring is rapidly approaching, and as the student body looks forward to short sleeves and iced drinks, posters around campus remind us that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
During this month, organizations collaborate in communities and on campuses to get individuals involved with the reality of sexual assault, domestic violence and rape, a reality where one in four women and one in six men are sexually assaulted each year, according to Marquette Women’s Center. A particular event to raise awareness was Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.
Most commonly hosted by fraternities and organizations around the country, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes entails exactly what one might expect: volunteers (mostly men) walk an actual mile in high heels. The posters confirm the expectation; young men on a football field, sporting bright pink stilettos. The problems with this picture cause more than just a feminist headache.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes has fantastic intentions, yet hypocritical and sexist executions. It is beautiful to see a community gather to support sexual assault victims, but the event needs some adjustments to make it truly supportive.
When I called Marquette Women’s Center to talk about my concerns, a woman from the center commented that her boyfriend participates in the walk and finds it very rewarding: “He gets to experience what it’s like to be a woman.” My jaw dropped. Sexual assault is not a woman’s issue—it is an issue that affects us all.
That’s easy to accept, right? Then why is this event called in “her” shoes? Although women are much more likely to be a victim, men experience sexual assault and domestic violence as well. Unless April was meant to be “Women’s” Sexual Assault Month, this benefit’s title should change to present its all-gender-inclusive support.
Furthermore — and I cannot make this clear enough –– to walk a mile in high heels is not to put oneself in a sexual assault victim’s shoes. While it’s meant to be a fun, light-hearted event, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes associates high heels and idealized femininity with victimhood.
It’s not only atrociously wrong in its victim-blaming, it reinforces the stereotypical connection between sexual assault and certain types of clothing. I would really like to see the numbers of women who wore heels, or for that matter fit this feminine stereotype at all, before they were raped.
I have these concerns because I am passionate and determined to strengthen Marquette’s community. I am not attempting to decrease Sexual Assault Month’s exposure in Marquette nor criticize those who participate. However, this type of event does not bring progress to our community.
Our awareness should no longer be focused solely on the victims when learning about sexual assault and domestic violence because this does not lead to the prevention of terrible abuse. Our community should not see a woman in heels and think she fits a profile of a victim; it’s time we put the spotlight on the offender.
We need to teach our community that two-thirds of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
We need to bring awareness to those who go undetected, as 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail, according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
We should highlight the consequences of committing rape and sexual assault for young men (and women) with something bold: Walk a Mile in Handcuffs.