More than 1,500 people gathered at the State House on the evening of April 6. The crowd might have seemed unusual to a passer-by for two reasons. It was far more diverse than many gatherings, with people of all ages, races and genders coming together. It also included a large number of men wearing high heels. The explanation for both was simple, and summed up by Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands Executive Director Mary Dell Hayes.
“We really have the opportunity to bring together a diverse cross-section of our community to represent the survivors and the belief
that this is an epidemic that we can end,” she said. “So many people standing together for an issue that is often in the shadows, something that people don’t want to talk about, to loudly, proudly and maybe even a little bit in a silly way say ‘Absolutely not. We’re not going to take it anymore.'”
“It” is sexual violence, the plague Hayes and her coworkers fight every day, and the reason the crowd gathered for STSM’s 8th annual Walk a Mile in Their Shoes. From children to seniors, from athletes and firefighters and law enforcement officers to office workers and academics, the crowd that night shared a commitment to ending it. They showed their passion with money donated to the event, which raises money for the services provided by STSM. They showed their passion with signs they carried, with slogans like “To ignore it is to condone it” and “It wasn’t bad sex. It wasn’t a mistake. It was rape.” They showed their passion with the shoes they wore as they walked together down Main Street and back down Sumter Street to the starting point.
“Tonight our community will make it clear that we will not stand for sexual assault, and we will stand with survivors,” said STSm Board President John Wilkinson.
Lexington Medical Center served as presenting sponsor for the event, and Lexington Medical Center Foundation Vice President of Development and Community Relations Barbara Wilm was part of a large contingent from the center which came to walk.
“We have been supporters of Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands for many, many years,” she said. “We just wanted to be able to come out and show our support of the wonderful work they do. We wish that they didn’t have to exist, but they do such an outstanding job and they are so good for this community.”
The night was also an opportunity to raise awareness of an issue which is too often kept quiet. “We [as a society] don’t really talk about it enough, and this is an opportunity to shout it from the rooftops” Hayes said. “Tonight, nobody feels alone.”