On the Heels of Change

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At the age of 19, Ann Simonton was walking through a park in New York City to get to a modeling assignment when she was sexually assaulted at knifepoint. As she reflected on her traumatic experience, she knew she wanted to make sure that what happened to her would never happen to anyone else.

“I realized I really wanted to bring about social change because I didn’t want that to happen to anyone,” Simonton said. “No one deserved to have that happen to them. It changed my life.”

Although the rate of reported sexual assaults has fallen by over 50 percent since 1993, 237,868 women will find themselves in Simonton’s shoes within the next year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey.

Men, women and children put on high-heeled shoes, picked up rally signs and marched down West Cliff Drive to participate in Walk a Mile in Her Shoes last Saturday. This was the fourth year the event was held by Monarch Services.

Founded 13 years ago, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is a national event focused on initiating discourse around sexualized violence and finding solutions to reduce the prevalence of sexual assaults.

Through gathering the community to march in its highest heels, development director at Monarch Services Kalyne Foster said the event was a chance to engage everyone — regardless of gender — in a topic that isn’t always readily approachable.

“We decided to bring it to Santa Cruz County because sexual assault is always a really difficult subject to talk about. It’s really important we involve both men and women in the conversation,” Foster said. “Both can be victims in their life, so it’s important that as a community we act as a community to talk about a hard subject.”

For the last 36 years, Monarch Services, the organizer of the event, provided safe spaces for anybody who has suffered or is suffering from sexualized violence. Monarch Services offers counseling, restraining orders, confidential shelter and a 24-hour hotline for victims of domestic violence and sexual assaults.

By holding Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, Monarch Services went beyond creating a safe space. Instead, they focused on preventing sexual assaults by educating younger members of the community.

“We really wanted to get young people involved in the conversation because we know the younger we get people involved and talking about it and raising awareness, the better results we have in preventing it,” Foster said.

Along with adult participants, there was a large presence of children participating in Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, initiating a conversation among the youth. Participant Dieter Ramicus said this conversation must be extended into other aspects of young people’s lives.

“It has to start at home. Parents need to be aware of it and have this conversation with their children and point out things like, ‘Hey, these video games aren’t reality.’ They must teach children from a young age what’s right and what’s not,” Ramicus said. “This has to happen in schools [and] it has to also be perpetuated at the university level. There’s still a lot to be done and there has to be a presence in the education system.”

The notion that education is an important tool for stopping sexualized violence was present among participants and organizers alike. Ann Simonton of MediaWatch, a non-profit dedicated to changing the images in media that belittle people of certain genders or races, said the key is to expose people to the truth of sexualized violence.

Simonton said rape is not inevitable — it is a conscious action an individual takes and it needs to be discouraged. According to the National Institute of Justice, 99 percent of female rape survivors and 85 percent of male rape survivors are raped by a male, though perpetrators of sexual violence can come from any background.

“You can’t put Band-Aids on [sexual violence]. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, here are some services for you’ after it happens. It’s not enough,” Simonton said. “We’ve got to go into the schools and start with young men and teach them to respect women and respect themselves.”

Women are victims of 9 out of 10 sexualized violence incidents, according to U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey. However, fourth-year UCSC student Brian Gutierrez said he wanted to emphasize that sexualized violence isn’t solely an issue for women. All genders and sexual orientations are affected by sexualized violence and Gutierrez said the community has to stand in solidarity to create change.

While any group of people are at risk of sexualized violence, people who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender and queer (LGBT) are often targets of sexual assaults. Individuals who identified as LGBT reported sexual violence at rates equal or greater than the general population, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

“We need to look at how we’re addressing each other and not put each other down in such a way that says women are not intelligent or women are less than men. We should really see that everyone is equal,” Gutierrez said. “We’re all human beings. We’re all capable of the same thing and we should respect one another because of it.”

Monarch Services offers both prevention education and services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Its 24-hour bilingual crisis line can be reached at 1-888-900-4232.