Community struts toward survivor support

DeKALB — Safe Passage’s Walk A Mile Fundraiser brought men, women and children to Sycamore High School to strut for a cause.

Walk A Mile is an annual event held by Safe Passage, a local domestic violence shelter. The event has been hosted by Safe Passage since 2015, with other shelters holding similar events across the country as well. Attendees can buy group packages, then walk eight laps in provided stiletto heels in support of survivors of sexual assault.

Hosted 10 a.m. Saturday in the Sycamore High School Field House, 427 Spartan Trail, Sycamore, the event drew a crowd near 100. Attendees danced and stretched to pop music as stilettos were distributed and participants prepared.

Lynnea Erickson Laskowski, Safe Passage’s communication director, said Walk A Mile is a way for participants to literally put themselves in a survivor’s shoes.

“It’s intended to highlight a lot of the victim-blaming things we hear in our culture and media: questions like ‘What was she wearing?’” Laskowski said. “Walk A Mile shatters that stereotype and says that no matter what you’re wearing, nobody deserves to be abused, no one is asking for it and everyone deserves to be respected.”

Senior psychology major Brittany White, an intern for Safe Passage, said events like Walk A Mile are important for recognizing the experiences of survivors. She said people who can’t immediately relate to experiences of abuse should consider opportunities like these to be essential for taking action.

“It’s important to get another person’s perspective,” White said. “When somebody says, ‘Walk a mile in my shoes,’ you really get a chance to understand what it’s like to be that other person. I think it’s really good for males, so they can kind of understand how it is to be a woman for a second.”

Many participants were veterans of Walk A Mile. Jerry Lane, of Sycamore, said he has participated since the beginning of the event’s history at Safe Passage.

Lane said men in particular should step up and be active during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“The issue of sexual assault is important for men to be involved with,” Lane said. “We’re the primary perpetrators. Men need to show support for survivors and do what we can to move discussion ahead on how to solve the problem.”

Attendees spoke on their individual motivations to participate in the fundraiser.

Joel Filmore, owner and director of clinical services at Lighthouse Professional Counseling Center, 2535 Bethany Road, Sycamore, said the next step is advocating for underrepresented survivors. He said there needs to be an increased awareness around sex trafficking.

“In our country, we’re having a significant increase not only in domestic violence but also human trafficking,” Filmore said. “It’s important, for those of us who are able, to get out there and create some noise about this issue, especially those of us who aren’t necessarily victims. People who are survivors of trafficking and domestic violence need allies to stand beside them.”

Not accustomed to the height of the heels, many walkers wobbled down the track and had to rely on others’ support to finish.

Taylor Wolf, of Byron, said this was his first Walk A Mile event. He said the experience deepened his own understanding of women’s experiences.

“Honestly, from my point of view, I don’t understand how women do it,” Wolf said. “It definitely takes a lot more skill than I would have thought.”

Michael Zasada, an instructor for the Department of Mathematical Sciences, said he could now relate to the pain of wearing stilettos while walking out of Sycamore High School, tired and sore.

However, the pain provided many the opportunity to recognize the experiences of abuse survivors.

Mia James, of DeKalb, said attending the event as a survivor made her optimistic toward advocacy in the community.

“I’m supporting this event today because at one point in my life I was a survivor,” James said. “I thought this was a good way to get my Saturday started and join my family in support of the community. We want to get the word out and make it easier for people to come forward and talk about the issues that we face everyday.”

*Story provided by the Northern Star