YWCA, allies march against domestic violence

Lachlan Johnson

They rolled in on motorcycles, decked out in heels, neon wigs and other finery, or came bearing homemade signs urging an end to violence. Participants of all stripes came to take part in the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Walla Walla’s third annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” march against domestic violence on Wednesday, Oct. 17. The march began at noon in Heritage Park on Main St. and ended with a proclamation by County Commissioner Jim Johnson at the Walla Walla County Courthouse.

The march was intended to raise awareness about domestic violence in the Walla Walla community, including the Whitman campus. This year’s event marked new coordination between the YWCA and Whitman groups such as Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE) and Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX).

The annual march “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” happened this Wednesday.  Photos by Allie Felt.

“Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” is a nationwide event that encourages men to wear high-heeled shoes to show solidarity with victims of domestic violence, the majority of whom are women.

“I have a board member who really got excited about the ‘Walk a Mile In Her Shoes’ … she works for the Department of Corrections, and there was a big push within the Department of Corrections to host Walk a Mile In Her Shoes marches in communities where there are correctional institutions,” said Anne-Marie Schwerin, the executive director of the Walla Walla YWCA. “It all goes back to the proverb, ‘you really don’t know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.'”

The YWCA has been coordinating for the first time this year with FACE and VOX to raise awareness for the march. The groups involved also hope to expand their cooperation on further projects such as the YWCA’s vigil for domestic violence victims in 2011 on Oct. 29 and FACE’s “Vagina Monologues.”

While all parties agree that the YWCA has been doing important work, some individuals felt concerned by the use of high-heeled shoes to represent victims of domestic violence.

“What could be potentially problematic about the walk is that men walking in high-heeled shoes stereotypes women and femininity into high heels, and it also does not ask men to further analyze their actions that perpetuate violence against women, or what they can do to help women beyond walking a mile in high heels,” said senior Diana Boesch, in an email articulating the concerns of other students. “But I would not wish these critiques to detract from the important work the YWCA performs and the benefits of raising awareness against domestic violence and sexual assault.”

For many participants in the event, the costume aspect of the event was a fun way to gain more visibility for a serious problem.

“We all wanted to make sure [this issue] was represented,” said Shane Maitland, one of several employees of the Washington State Penitentiary who donned heels and skirts to lead the procession down Main St. “It’s something we see, unfortunately, the effects of every day … If we’re asked to dress up [to raise awareness] we’re more than happy to do that.”

The YWCA aims to raise awareness in the entire Walla Walla community, including Whitman. Domestic violence occurs in all sectors of society, and is not limited by economic class or level of education. Though partner violence happens to a small portion of the student body, it is present on campus.

“A lot of the time one of the partners in the relationship tries to control the other person. It’s things like [when the partner] cuts them off from their other friends, is very disapproving if they want to go out, micromanages what they wear, where they go, who they talk to [and] how they spend their free time,” said Sexual Misconduct Prevention Coordinator Barbara Maxwell. “If you’re that person’s friend, are you seeing anything in their behavior change? If one person always came to eat lunch with you every Friday and suddenly [you] don’t see them [and] they haven’t called to explain why they’re not coming, that might raise some concerns.”

Part of Maxwell’s work as Sexual Misconduct Prevention Coordinator is to raise awareness about partner violence on campus. Partner violence is not limited to heterosexual relationships where the male abuses the female; while women are the most frequent victims of domestic violence, abuse can also be carried out on a man by a woman or in homosexual relationships.

“I think for a lot of people [the first step is] suspending that sense that ‘it would never happen to my friends, or happen to anybody I know,'” said Maxwell. “It could. And it might. And it might be occurring right now and you just don’t know about it. But if you have that attitude, you’ll never see it.”

Wednesday’s march ended in front of the Walla Walla County Courthouse with closing remarks from Schwerin and County Commissioner Jim Johnson, who read a proclamation resolving to spread awareness about domestic violence that will be incorporated by the commission on Monday, Oct. 22.

Schwerin and Johnson cited several statistics, including the 61 domestic violence-related deaths in Washington in 2011, and urged attendees to take personal action.

“Domestic violence is not just a family problem; it’s a community problem,” said Schwerin to the crowd. “Tell somebody about what you did today … That’s the way the news will spread.”

The YWCA will hold a vigil for victims of domestic violence on Oct. 29 at the Land Title Plaza on Main St., at 5:30 p.m.