CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 11, 2014) – Christopher Hartnett’s pain was only temporary. The tight-fitting stilettos he donned could be removed whenever he was ready, but the psychological damage suffered by victims of sexual assault endures.
“My physical pain is just a slither of what rape victims go through,” said Hartnett, associate director of housing and residence life at the University of Miami, after he completed a symbolic mile walk organized to fight sexual assault and change attitudes and practices that demean women. “Many people think of rape as just a woman’s problem, but men can be a part of the solution and need to be engaged.”
Hartnett was one of about 70 male faculty, staff, and students who endured a little discomfort Thursday during UM’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, wearing red heels and taking a stroll from the University Center Rock to the Ashe Building and back.
“We want them to experience empathy and compassion for victims of sexual abuse,” said Kimberly Martin, a clinical social worker and outreach coordinator at UM’s Counseling Center, which organized the march. “Men can be allies and partner with women in this fight.”
Marriage and family therapist Frank Baird started Walk a Mile in Her Shoes in 2001 at California State University, Northridge. Today, marches are held on college campuses and in cities nationwide.
Writer and victims’ advocate Zerlina Maxwell decried a rape culture in which the act is excused tolerated, and even condoned, and said more education is needed to reverse such attitudes. Victim blaming must stop, she said, and songs such as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” which some groups have claimed is misogynist and promotes date rape, only exacerbate rape culture.
“Our priorities are in the wrong place,” Maxwell said.
Speaking to an audience before the march got underway, she also provided some alarming statistics, noting that 20 percent of women have survived a sexual assault.
Carolyn Eberhardt, a Counseling Center psychologist and coordinator of UM’s Sexual Assault Response Team, viewed Thursday’s event as “way to involve the entire campus in this dialogue.”
“The idea of walking in another’s shoes and doing it in this fashion is a fun way to engage all segments of the campus, but the participants know it’s a serious topic and understand the symbolism that’s involved,” Eberhardt said. “We like to think of it as being part of the struggle of the walk of recovery.”