PITTSFIELD - Sept. 6 headline in The Eagle -- "Female Indian author killed." Suspected Taliban members murdered a woman in Afghanistan for the crime of publishing her autobiography describing life as a woman under Taliban rule. Two days earlier a headline read, "1 woman killed every hour over dowry." While more than 8,000 women are murdered across India in one year, these crimes are seldom taken seriously.
Violence against women is as commonplace in our country as it is elsewhere. Globally, one in three women will be assaulted at some point in their lives, usually by someone they know. The American rate for women experiencing this type of violence is one in three.
And violence against women sells here. Just ask Brad Kolb, owner of Hornet Signs in Waco, Texas, who thought it would be a good idea to generate business (custom signs) by printing a decal of a woman, lying on her side in the bed of a pickup truck, her hands and feet bound by rope. Though copies are not available for sale, the life-size decal was placed on the tailgate of an employee's truck and driven around town. It looked so lifelike that several people thought it was a real woman and called the police. The result? The decal made national news; Kolb reported a huge boost in business.
Closer to home, Jared Remy was recently arrested on charges of murdering his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel, the mother of his 4-year-old daughter and the woman with whom he lived in Waltham. The child was home while her father allegedly murdered her mother there, an act witnessed by neighbors (some of whom tried to intervene to save Martel). Although Remy had been in court just 24 hours earlier for another physical attack on Martel, prosecutors didn't even ask for bail, and Remy left on his own recognizance with an order "not to abuse" Martel.
In victim-blaming remarks reported in the Boston Globe, Assistant Middlesex District Attorney Lisa McGovern said Remy was released because Martel chose not to extend the restraining order and did not appear in court. In other words, it was her fault, though we know restraining orders sometimes make things more dangerous for victims. Remy (with a documented history of abusing not only Martel, but two previous girlfriends and a long criminal record including steroid abuse) could have been held as a dangerous person even without Martel's action. He's in jail now, but it's too late for Jennifer, one of the 10 domestic homicide victims in Massachusetts in the first eight months of 2013.
For all of these reasons and more, we invite everyone to put your feet to the street for Berkshire County's third annual "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 5:30 p.m. during downtown Pittsfield's Third Thursday celebration.
"Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men's March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault, and Gender Violence" turns 12 this year. The walk uses a form of public performance to educate people about all forms of gender-based violence, create community momentum for ending violence, and raise funds for local agencies. In Berkshire County, that agency is the Elizabeth Freeman Center (EFC), the county's provider of services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. In 2012, EFC served more than 5,000 individuals including residents of at least 30 of Berkshire County's 32 cities and towns.
For the first two walks, the entire male staff of the Berkshire County DA's office made a grand entrance sporting the official event footwear -- and they're coming back for the third time this week. District Attorney David Capeless says, "Once again, I and all the other male staff members of the DA's Office -- prosecutors, advocates, and administrative staff -- will proudly come out, red pumps and all, to support our partners at EFC and to shine a brighter light on the dark social ill of domestic violence. Please join us."
We are confronting a serious social problem with a serious need -- funding for services and prevention programs in the schools -- but do so with an entertaining activity that demonstrates and builds community support for survivors and EFC. The event grew significantly from 2011 to 2012, both in the number of walkers and the number of dollars raised. The individual who raised the most funds both years was Flavours of Malaysia's own Chin Lee who raised $1,000 in 2011 and almost $2,000 in 2012. Somebody needs to challenge him for first place this year. Any takers?
Men are encouraged to join the walk as individuals, but another option is to form a team with your family, colleagues, friends, sports teammates, or neighbors. Challenge each other to see who can raise the most money or get contributions from the largest number of individuals. A minimum of $55 in pledges guarantees the walker an event T-shirt. An array of women's shoes and shoe decorations will be available to borrow on the night of the walk (though we can't guarantee a pair of shoes for every size foot).
Returning for his third walk, Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn says, "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes provides valuable support for the Elizabeth Freeman Center and heightened visibility to the subject of violence against women in our community. Rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence are pervasive public safety threats that we all need to come together to confront. I walk because it serves as a visible and tangible symbol of the challenges our community faces in dealing with this issue."
Other walkers include: state Sen. Ben Downing and state Rep. Smitty Pignatelli; Pittsfield City Councilors Churchill Cotton, John Krol, and Jonathan Lothrop; Probate Court Registrar Fran Marinaro; members of the Adams Police and the Berkshire County Sheriff's Department; groups from MCLA and Williams College; Dennis Powell of the NAACP; and author Ty Allan Jackson. Underwriters putting their name and money behind Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and its mission include: Donovan & O'Connor, LLP; WJ Blueprint and Digital Graphics; Berkshire Bank Foundation; Berkshire Health Systems; Onyx Specialty Papers, Inc.; Cain, Hibbard, & Myers, Jane Iredale Mineral Cosmetics; J. H. Maxymillian, Inc.; Mountain One; and Rotary Club of Pittsfield.
Registration forms are available at the Elizabeth Freeman Center; Bagels, Too; Flavours; and on EFC's Facebook page. Walkers can also register on the 19th on the east side of the 100 Block of North Street from 5:30-6 p.m. Marchers will step off the curb there at 6 p.m. to walk the one mile loop up and down North Street. And remember, all donations are fully tax deductible to the amount allowed by law. For questions or further information, contact EFC at info@ elizabethfreemancenter.org or (413) 499-2425. We hope to see you there!
Dr. Susan Birns is board secretary of the Elizabeth Freeman Center and chairperson of the Department of Sociology/Anthropology/Social Work at MCLA.