WALLA WALLA -- Men wobbled down Main Street on Wednesday in unusual footwear: no Bostonians or well worn boots, no penny loafers or laced-up running shoes. These men wore high heels.
Walla Walla's first Walk a Mile in Her Shoes International Men's March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence kicked off at noon. Men wearing platform sandals, ballet flats and pumps walked from Heritage Square Park on Main Street to the Walla Walla County Courthouse in high and higher style.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes challenges men to wear women's footwear as an opportunity to address and educate the community about sexual violence. The event was sponsored by the Washington State Penitentiary Employees Association to benefit the YWCA Walla Walla Domestic and Sexual Assault Shelter. In 2009, when 40 deaths statewide were attributed to domestic violence, the Walla Walla YWCA provided shelter for 271 women and 192 children.
"This number doesn't include the crisis call lines, women who don't spend the night or those needing legal advocacy," said Anne-Marie Zell Schwerin, executive director of the YWCA. "The shelter, unfortunately, is full most of the time."
October is nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This week is also YWCA's Week Without Violence. About 70 women, men and children joined the walk, showing off purple ribbons and, of course, sparkly women's attire.
Bill Copland, who started the Tri-Cities Walk A Mile in Her Shoes four years ago, sported 4-inch-tall red-sequined pumps that won the "Highest Heels" prize at the end of the walk.
"Sexual assault is not a women's problem. It's really a men's problem because men perpetuate sexual abuse," Copland said. "This is how men are standing up and acknowledging the issue."
"I wanted to try this event in Walla Walla," said YWCA and WSPEA board member Toni Alvarado-Jackson, who spearheaded Wednesday's event. "WSPEA donated the T-shirts."
Her husband, Jeff Jackson, credited his lime-green leopard print tights and pea-colored ballet flats to Alvarado-Jackson.
A number of penitentiary employees came to support the event, including Dale Zipf and Juan Hernandez, who raised nearly $200 from coworkers. In return, they would dress head-to-toe -- in this case, blond wig-to-high heel -- for the walk.
"I feel sexy," said Zipf. "(Hernandez) is more conservative in his tiger print dress."
"It took me about 45 minutes to get ready," estimated Hernandez.
Some men, unable to find shoes that would fit, duct-taped women's shoes beneath their own shoe. Others, like penitentiary Associate Superintendent Mark Kucza, found a Cinderella fit.
"They're actually fitting pretty well," said Kucza, who wears men's size 13, of his white high heels. "I borrowed these from the (Little Theatre of Walla Walla). They were specially ordered for men to wear on stage."
"We ought to take zero tolerance in managing sexual assault and violence," Kucza said. "It's about a safe society, and it starts at home."
Chalese Calhoon, the domestic violence service officer for the Police Department, adorned her shoes by gluing purple sparkles to black patent leather pumps. Walla Walla City County SWAT Officer Kevin Braman wore matching glittering purple platforms and purple nail polish on his exposed toes, and stole the prize for "Cutest Feet."
"10 SWAT members and our chief came in from training to support the walk," said Calhoon. "Next year, I'm hoping to have them all in glitter shoes."
Braman added, "We just support the cause. We're glad to be out here."
"The YWCA helps to provide a safe haven to women in need," said Walla Walla County Commissioner Perry Dozier to the crowd after the walk.
He officially declared October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month for Walla Walla.
Katrina Barlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.