IOWA CITY — Sporting red high heels and a pair of American flag sunglasses, University of Iowa junior Reid Senesac led a pack of roughly 200 men and women on a walk down Clinton Street on Sunday with hopes of drawing more attention to the issue of sexual violence in Johnson County.
Now in it’s second year at the UI, Senesac said the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event is intended to get the community talking about sexual assault issues while educating people about the resources available to them.
“The purpose of these heels is obviously to catch the attention of the public to show that men are fully supportive of women and their rights and it’s a really big issue at Iowa,” Senesac said, adding that recent reports of sexual assault on campus only make the issue more timely.
The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event traces its history to 2001. That year, a small group of men wore high heels around a park to draw attention to sexual violence issues. The event has since spread around the country.
Last year the event raised $1,600. Leaders said they hoped to raise even more this year, with more than 250 signed up before the walk began on Sunday. All proceeds were going to the UI’s Rape Victim Advocacy Program.
Organized by the Phi Delta Theta Iowa Beta Fraternity and the Pi Beta Phi Iowa Zeta Sorority, participants also said they hope the event will help the Greek community overcome stereotypes.
“There tends to be a stereotype with fraternities and the stigma about that led us to want to show that there is a Greek community of men out there aware of violence against women,” said Dan Bettenhausen, a current graduate student who serves as house director for the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. “We wanted to do something to not only raise awareness, but take steps, through this event, to prevent it.”
After the walk, participants had the option to sit in on an educational session led by Jacob Oppenheimer of the Men’s Antiviolence Council at the UI. He covered sexual assault statistics, how one should intervene when he or she believes they have witnessed a sexual assault, and what resources are available.
And though some of those participating staggered and appeared to be in pain while walking, female participants said it was nice to see such a large group of men gather to support what is too often considered a “women’s issue.”
“It’s really nice to see how gung ho the guys are about it,” said UI junior Emily Gaziano, who helped organize the walk. “They’re so passionate about the awareness and putting it out there and they want to put a good name out there for themselves as well as the Greek community and the Iowa City Community — it’s not just for us but for the men and women who are affected by it.”