Lining the sidewalks at the College of Coastal Georgia, 149 shoes marked the path for the college’s inaugural “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event.
Each shoe represented a person who died in Georgia in 2017 due to domestic violence.
A group of nearly 100 people — including students, college faculty, community leaders and law enforcement officers — followed the trail of shoes Thursday in a winding path around the campus in a march to bring awareness to sexual assault, domestic violence and sex trafficking.
“We are here today to walk for women — women who have lost their lives or are survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault,” said Thearon Filson, administrative assistant in the college’s Student Health Center and organizer of the walk.
“Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” is an international event that aims to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence. Men around the world often take part in the walk while wearing a pair of high heels.
Many men embraced this challenge at Coastal Georgia’s walk. They hobbled slowly along in pairs of extra-large red heels, alongside students who carried signs and community members who came on campus for the event.
Sexual assault, domestic violence and sex trafficking affect all communities. Every 98 seconds, it’s estimated, a person is sexually assaulted, said Andrea Belton, volunteer coordinator and community prevention specialist at the Connie Smith Rape Crisis Center in Brunswick.
“Just let that sink in for a minute,” Belton said. “Just think about the amount of time that we’ve been out here today. Every 98 seconds, there is a victim of sexual assault.”
Yet, resources to help survivors in Georgia are lacking.
“In the entire state of Georgia, there are 159 counties. Out of all those counties, there are only 31 rape crisis centers in the entire state,” Belton said. “Of those 31, only five of them are full-service, and we have one here in Glynn County.”
The Connie Smith Rape Crisis Center, operated by Safe Harbor and a sponsor of the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event, became a full-service center in January.
“We can meet just about all of your needs,” Belton said. “But we can’t do everything. What we can do is give you a referral if it’s something that we can’t do.”
Some of those other services were represented at the event Thursday. Several organization set up booths on campus, to provide a chance for students to learn more about local resources.
Other sponsors of the event included the Glynn Community Crisis Center, which serves domestic violence survivors, and Faithful Love, an organization that reaches out to women in the community who are victims of sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking is happening in Glynn County, said Judi Riccio, executive director of Faithful Love. To stop sex trafficking, she said, more community members need to learn how to notice the signs.
“We can’t stop anything if we don’t know what to look for,” Riccio said. “It’s important that we know the signs of domestic violence, of intimate partner violence, of sex trafficking.”
Survivors come in all forms, she said. They’re men and women of all races and all socio-economic backgrounds.
“It’s happening on college campuses. College students are being groomed for sex trafficking,” Riccio said. “It is happening in our schools — middle schoolers and high schoolers are being groomed. And they don’t know it.”
Deborah Haley, a SANE nurse, or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, at the local rape crisis center, thanked police officers for the role they play in helping survivors.
“I know it doesn’t seem like we appreciate law enforcement, since we’re torturing them in red shoes today, but I would like to let them know our appreciation for how much they support us and support the community,” Haley said.
The shoes scattered across campus served as a visible reminder, though, of how many lives have been taken due to this violence and the work that still needs to be done.
“Domestic violence and sexual violence often go hand in hand,” Haley said. “We need to confront this problem as a community issue and a national issue and bring an end to it.”