Alaska ranks in the top five in the nation for domestic and sexual violence.
Even if it were in the top 50, that still would be too high.
On Saturday, community members came out to reinforce the travesty of that statistic with participation in Walk a Mile In Her Shoes one-mile walk and 5K run, an annual event hosted by AWARE (Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies), Juneau Violence Prevention Coalition and Southeast Alaska Board of Realtors.
“Walk a Mile In Her Shoes is an international march to end gender violence,” AWARE Community Engagement Advocate Mark Calvert said. “It takes place in conjunction with the Juneau White Ribbon Pledge Drive. We have gathered over 1,000 White Ribbon Pledges from Juneau men and boys to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.”
Saturday event participants discovered it is extra tough to walk in high heels, but that uncomfortable feeling pales before the degrading and wicked acts of abuse.
“I am in so much pain I can’t think,” Matt Armstrong, a social worker for Juneau Youth Services, said, “I just want to support women and put an end to domestic violence. This is a great cause and it needs to happen. I hope I am a role model to the young men in this city and encourage them to be successful adults and good community advocates.”
Armstrong finished the walk with Juneau-Douglas High School junior Vlad Altman who wore xtraTufs.
Dzantik’i Heeni sixth grader Eli Douglas, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes after a commute into Douglas, wore shoes that would bring ridicule if donned among his Wolverine classmates.
“I wanted to support the cause,” Douglas said as he hobbled along the walking route. “And I wanted to help raise money for the cause. I think this is a powerful thing we are doing today.”
Young men were in abundance as local high school sports teams, including the Thunder Mountain and Juneau-Douglas basketball teams and the JDHS cross country team, either ran the 5K portion for the cause or slipped hairy toes into uncomfortable high heels to walk the mile.
“Our guys need to be aware of domestic violence and the issues surrounding it,” JDHS boys basketball coach Robert Casperson said. “Mark (Calvert) and I have been talking about doing the Coaching Boys Into Men and we discussed this as an opportunity to get our guys out into the community and support those efforts.”
Casperson said he has admired the work TMHS coach John Blasco has done in the Coaching Boys Into Men program. That sentiment was echoed by Calvert.
“John and his team have done incredible work,” Calvert said. “They have really raised awareness of gender violence and have gotten other boys and men in Juneau motivated. Look at this turnout today and it is very special to see men and boys in Juneau actually getting involved in ending gender violence and promoting gender equality.”
Along with Casperson, JDHS cross country coaches Tristan Knutson-Lombardo and Merry Ellefsen have now partnered with Coaching Boys Into Men.
JDHS cross-country freshmen Harrison Bibb and Duncan Smith finished the walk arm-in-arm supporting each other — literally — as well as women. Junior teammate Malik Brown and sophomore Riley Moser actually ran in borrowed high heels.
“It is super fun,” Moser said in anguish. “And we want to show that JDHS contributes and we are against women being hurt.”
Added Brown, “I feel like this is the least we can do for women. This hurt walking in these high heels but the whole time I was thinking that I can do this to stop domestic violence, it is worth it.”
Opting to wear flats instead of high heels in the walk, Errol Champion and Jim Preston, President and President-Elect of the Southeast Board of Realtors, finished in grand stride.
“It is a good, worthy cause,” Preston said. “We support this so here we are.”
Southeast Board of Realtors member Mimi Rothchild stated that realtors’ jobs are to help create healthy communities and this event is a starting point.
“People can come together and educate from very young ages,” Rothchild said. “Realtors aren’t just about selling houses, we are about strong communities. If we are going to stop violence against women we are going to need to start young and educate young men and boys to show that even if this is not what they see in their home, we are respecting women of all ages.”
In 2011 the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA) conducted a statewide survey to determine how many women have been victimized. This information was formulated into snapshots of each community (http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/research/2010/1103.victimization/1103.023....).
For Juneau alone the results are staggering.
Out of every 100 adult women residing in the City and Borough of Juneau, 47 have experienced intimate partner violence; 35 have experienced sexual violence; and 55 have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both.
The national rate is 25 percent. Juneau’s local rate shows this has become an epidemic in the Capital City.
601 adult Juneau women were called at random for this study. The survey excluded non-English speaking women, women without phone access, and women not living in a residence (i.e., homeless women).
“At the heart of why we are working so hard to bring men into this movement to end domestic violence and sexual assault is that we believe most men are good and do not perpetrate violence,” Calvert said. “These are the men we are mobilizing. It is not enough for men to say, ‘I’m not going to commit violence against women.’ Men have to speak up when other men perpetrate violence and display sexist behavior that objectifies women and girls. When we say nothing and do nothing we are saying ‘It is just fine to be violent against women and girls.’ We are making great strides in Juneau, and today was a beautiful example of that.”
Sisters Eda and Eva Meyer, too young to understand what Saturday’s walk was about, observed multiple runners wearing costume wings run past them.
“Look,” Eda exclaimed. “Angels.”
(Editors note: Sponsorship and help for Saturday’s Walk A Mile In Her Shoes included SE Road Runners, Costco, Heritage, The Rookery, Alaska Club, Pavitt’s, and Nugget Alaskan Outfitter).