Susan Birns: Why walk in her shoes?

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NORTH ADAMS >> On Sept. 15 (rain or shine), during the final Third Thursday celebration of 2016 in downtown Pittsfield, we'll be back for the sixth time to Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. Why? We continue to Walk a Mile in Her Shoes because:

* One in three women around the globe, one in three women in the United States, and one in three women in Berkshire County will be sexually abused or physically assaulted (often at the hands of someone who claims to love them) at some point in their lives.

* With complete disregard for the victims, men who are convicted of raping women, especially if the men are white or athletes or wealthy or otherwise famous, barely get slapped on the wrist because in the eyes of judges and juries and the general public, jail time would be too damaging for the rapists.

* Every night in America there are many more abuse survivors who seek asylum in shelters than there are beds for them to sleep in.

* Approximately half of abused children have abused mothers and half of abused women have abused children.

* Funding for services for abuse survivors is always at risk — at the national, state, and local levels.

* Though gender-based violence is epidemic in its scope, we will never be able to eradicate it with a vaccine.

*Huge numbers of women seen in detox programs, hospital emergency rooms, welfare offices, counseling centers, courtrooms, and children's protective services experience violence in their intimate relationships.

* Gender-based violence is not just a "women's issue."

* We walk because we insist that these facts become completely unacceptable in our community. We walk to promote social change. We walk to build community. We walk to raise money to provide services for survivors. We walk because it's a fun way to tackle an extremely serious social problem.

Registration for this year's walk starts at 5 p.m. at the corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue. After a brief opening program, the one mile loop around North Street will begin at 6 p.m.

Walk a Mile is special because men take center stage to show that gender-based violence is not exclusively a "women's issue." The overwhelming majority of rapes and intimate partner assaults are perpetrated by men against women. This alone makes it a men's issue.

Behavioral change

On college campuses all over the country right now as the academic year begins, campaigns to prevent sexual assault are targeted at women ("How to avoid being sexually assaulted"), but it is primarily men's behavior that has to change in order to end the violence and the pressure to change has to come from men as well as women.

But the walk is not for men only. Women and children are enthusiastically encouraged to participate either by joining the march or by lining North Street, cheering the walkers on.

Here is how it works. 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.

Women's 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). The point is symbolic — understanding what it feels like to be an abuse survivor — to figuratively walk in her shoes.

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 Elizabeth Freeman Center offices; on Facebook at facebook/ElizabethFreemanCenter; at www.elizabethfreemancenter.org; or by calling 413-499-2425.

Each year, more and more businesses and organizations show their support by underwriting the event, putting both their names and their money behind it. Some of these groups also organize teams to walk the walk.

This year's underwriters include: Onyx Specialty Papers; Annie Selke; Greylock Federal Credit Union; Jane Iredale; Mountain One; Berkshire Bank; Berkshire Gas; Berkshire Health Systems; Blue Q; J.H. Maxymillian, Inc.; Unistress; Adams Community Bank; Berkshire Orthopedic Associates; Cain, Hibbard & Myers; Donovan and O'Conner, LLP; Guido's Fresh Marketplace; Lee Bank; NBT Bank; Pittsfield Rotary; Pittsfield UNICO; and Teton Management.

All proceeds from the event benefit 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 also provided to local children and youth in day care programs and schools. 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 2015, you helped us raise over $48,000 to help fund vitally needed services and more than 500 people participated in this event. Help us do even better this year and please join us on the 15th. You won't regret it.

Dr. Susan Birns is secretary of the Board of Directors of Elizabeth Freeman Center and chairperson of the Department of Sociology/Anthropology/Social Work at MCLA.


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