Susan Birns: 'Walk a Mile in Her Shoes' to combat gender violence

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NORTH ADAMS — I have two preschool grandchildren and since they first started toddling, like most little kids, they have availed themselves of every opportunity to literally walk in somebody else's shoes — slippers, boots, flip flops, sneakers. If only we adults were equally willing to do so.

Walking in the shoes of an abuse survivor is the theme behind Elizabeth Freeman Center's (EFC) annual fundraising event, "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes." EFC works to combat violence in intimate relationships and we serve all survivors and their families.

Centuries of patriarchy across the globe has created a system that rests on gender based violence (including battering, bride burning, rape, honor killing, and sex selective abortion) which is primarily perpetrated by men and overwhelmingly victimizes women. "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" serves as an invitation to men to share the responsibility for social change in this area demonstrating that this is not exclusively a "women's issue."

Showing empathy

We walk to raise awareness, as well as money, and to build community. Everyone is invited to walk and all are encouraged to wear women's shoes or to decorate their own in a traditionally feminine style, not because we think men in women's clothing is comical, but because walking in someone else's shoes is a widely used metaphor for feeling empathy.

The 7th annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes will be held this week, rain or shine, as part of Pittsfield's Third Thursday celebration. Registration begins at 5 p.m. on the corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue and walkers step off the curb at 6 p.m.

It is not too late for you to participate in this year's event! Individual walkers are each asked (not required) to raise a minimum of $55 by securing donations from their friends, families, and colleagues to sponsor their walk. The $55 raised entitles the walker to a free event t-shirt. Shoes will be available at the event, but very large sizes are limited in quantity.

Men can opt to wear a pair of their own shoes, as long as they decorate them (temporary forms of decoration will be provided on site). Pledge sheets are available at: Bagels, Too; Flavours of Malaysia Restaurant; Guido's Fresh Marketplace; Steven Valenti's Clothing for Men; Berkshire Running Center; all EFC offices; on Facebook at facebook/ElizabethFreemanCenter; at www.elizabethfreemancenter.org; or by calling 413-499-2425.

Every year a growing number of businesses and organizations show their support by underwriting the event, attaching both their names and their money to it. Some of these groups also organize walking teams: Onyx Specialty Papers; Annie Selke; Greylock Federal Credit Union; Jane Iredale; Mountain One; Berkshire Bank; Blue Q; Berkshire Gas; Haddad Dealerships of Berkshire County; Berkshire Health Systems; J.H.Maxymillian, Inc.; Unistress; Adams Community Bank; Cain, Hibbard and Myers; Guido's Fresh Marketplace; Lee Bank; NBT Bank; Pittsfield Rotary; Pittsfield UNICO; Pittsfield Co-Operative Bank; Baba Louie's; Crescent Creamery; East Elm Pediatrics; and Berkshire Fairfield Scarafoni Financial.

All walk proceeds benefit the Elizabeth Freeman Center, Berkshire County's provider of services and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Services include a 24-hour hotline, shelter, counseling, court advocacy, supervised visitation, safe pets, and specialized services for immigrants, rural residents, and LGBQT.

Violence prevention education is provided to children and youth in day care programs and schools. New or expanded programs this year include expansion of our LGBQT Access Project, development of a batterers' intervention program and a financial literacy/independence project (Money School), and working with the Department of Public Health to bring a specialized Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) to Berkshire Medical Center.

We have offices in North Adams, Pittsfield, and Great Barrington and staff located in the Adams and Pittsfield Police Departments, county courts, and Berkshire County Kids' Place. In 2016 we served almost 2,700 abuse survivors through direct services and 747 youth through almost 200 workshops on violence prevention and sex education. Walkers helped us raise over $45,000 to help fund vitally needed services and more than 500 people participated in this event.

Make dream a reality

As summer draws to a close and Pittsfield's last Third Thursday celebration of 2017 rapidly approaches, publicity for Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is gearing up. When you see the red heel remember to put yourself in the place of those who experience intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Abuse survivors constitute a diverse group and all are entitled to safety at home, as well as on the streets. Please join us in the work to make this dream a reality.

I hope to see you on Thursday (Sept. 21) to make this year's walk the most successful one yet!

Dr. Susan Birns is secretary of the Board of Directors of Elizabeth Freeman Center and professor emeritus at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.


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