Yesterday, I walked a mile. I walked a mile across cobble stones and pavement. I walked a mile in 3” platform heels.
I walked a mile as a male wearing those heels. I walked a mile in her shoes to raise awareness for sexual assault in the Midlands of South Carolina. In 2007 there were over 1,500 arrests for sex-related crimes in South Carolina according to Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. And those are just the numbers of reported crimes that reached an arrest. What about all the crimes that are never reported to police? There’s no way of knowing how many of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family members have experienced unwanted sexual contact. That’s why I walk, so that those without voices will have someone to represent them.
According to RAINN.org approximately 10% of sexual assault survivors are male, but I bet that number is under reported in the US. So I walked a mile in his shoes too, to be a voice for men and boys who don’t feel comfortable to speak out about their difficult experiences as survivors of sexual assault. We teach our young men to be tough, to stay strong, and yet how often do we teach them how to express their feelings and how to speak up when they’ve been wronged?
I walked a mile as a former victim’s advocate who, for more than two years, sat beside victims of sexual assault to help them through the process of healing and if they chose, to find justice for the crimes committed against them. I walked a mile in their shoes so that people who know me, will know that I am still a confidential ear who will listen to them, a shoulder that they can cry on, a resource that they can turn to if they have experiences that they wish to share with someone they can trust.
I walked a mile as an educator helping to teach youth about love, sex, and relationships. So often we don’t talk to youth at all about sex. Sometimes when we do talk about sex, we only tell them not to do it or else. Other times we teach them about how to protect themselves from HIV, STDs, and from unplanned pregnancy. But, how often do we teach our youth actual skills for refusing unwanted sexual activity? How often do we give them a chance to learn and practice how to give a firm “no” and how to respect someone who has said no? How often do we take the time to teach young people how alcohol and drugs can impair their judgment in sexual situations? Instead, we focus on issues like drunk driving; it is easier to talk about that than to talk about sex. Well, I walked a mile to remind youth that consent is sexy, that anything less than a yes is still no, and that it is ok to say no if you are not ready to have sex. I walked a mile to inspire parents to talk to their kids about the difficult topics, just like walking on cobblestone in high heels is difficult. Sometimes we must show courage and step forward to do what is right even when we are embarrassed. Come on parents and trusted adults, will you walk a mile with me?
I personally believe that we must empower our young people to take brave stands to protect themselves, while giving them the skills they need to make healthy and smart choices for their future. Like shopping for the right pair of shoes, not one size fits all. We sometimes have to use different approaches with different young people. We have to educate them on all the options so that they can chose the shoes that fit right, look right, and feel right for them. These empowered and educated young people will then be able to walk many miles without having to wear her shoes, or the shoes of anyone who is a survivor of sexual assault. I walked a mile so that hopefully others in the future, will not have to walk; so that by raising awareness of issues we often don’t address, we can put an end to the problem forever.
That’s why I walked a mile in her shoes yesterday. Next year I’m going to be a team captain and recruit all of my friends to walk with me. Will you walk with me?
by: Ryan Wilson, Training Coordinator, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Reach out to Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.