PITTSFIELD >> For the past six years, men, first by the dozens, now by the hundreds, have come out to take a stand in the heart of the city and say that rape, sexual assault and domestic violence are not acceptable here.
Thursday night's "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" event again returned nothing short of a strong display of activism and advocacy, both among the men, women and children who walked together, and the local businesses who posted signs about the event in their windows.
The event invites men to wear women's shoes and endure the shakiness and pain that's sometimes involved in walking in a pair of high heels. But like the shock of ice cold water non-affected people have felt when taking the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and funds for ALS disease, the temporary pain of cramming one's foot into a smaller spiked-heel shoe is nothing compared to the pang of trauma felt by survivors of sexual violence or abuse.
"We believe that it takes a community to make change," said Janis Broderick, executive director of the Elizabeth Freeman Center, which sponsors the event. "Our big hope for Walk a Mile is that it creates a growing community movement to build a world in which everyone can live in safety, with dignity and justice; a community that does not tolerate rape, sexual assault or abuse or the culture that perpetuates them, a community that supports all survivors and that is raising the next generation to have healthy relationships and freedom from sexual assault and gender violence."
Statistically speaking, if you're reading this, chances are you know a woman, man or child who has experienced sexual violence or abuse, whether he or she has talked about it or not.
"Domestic violence and sexual assault are not issues that impact just victims and their families. Incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault are public safety and public health issues that impact entire communities," Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn wrote in a Sept. 1 Letter to The Editor of The Eagle, regarding the event. He's a regular participant in the event.
Susan Birns, Ph.D., also wrote an Eagle column about the event. She is the secretary of the Board of Directors of Elizabeth Freeman Center and chairperson of the Department of Sociology/Anthropology/Social Work at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
She wrote how the issue has become large enough that colleges are spending money and resources on campaigns talking about how not to get assaulted, and venues like the Elizabeth Freeman Center continue to exist because of this societal problem.
Broderick said that Berkshire Medical Center is a new "SANE" (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) site, which means when a rape survivor goes to the hospital for a rape exam, a specially trained nurse and Elizabeth Freeman Center liaison will be called to work with them. Persons going to hospitals in north or south county can ask for transportation to BMC in Pittsfield.
Initially, Broderick said, she was told to expect about 25 calls a year from this site. "We've already gotten 35," she said.