For the men walking down Main Street through downtown Bel Air in high-heeled shoes Saturday morning, raising money to help victims of domestic and sexual abuse was worth every pinched toe, heel snagged in a sidewalk crack and catcall from spectators along the route.
About 100 men, women and children participated in the sixth annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men's March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence.
The Harford County walk was hosted by SARC, the Sexual Assault and Spouse Abuse Resource Center, and is a major fundraiser for the organization.
The nonprofit SARC Inc. is headquartered in Bel Air and assists women and children, as well as men, who have suffered domestic violence or sexual abuse.
"If you get 50 or 60 guys walking down Main Street in heels it draws attention, and people ask questions and it gives you a perfect opportunity to talk about domestic violence," Steve Linkous of Jarrettsville said.
Linkous is president and CEO of the Harford Mutual Insurance Company of Bel Air. His wife Sandi is president of SARC's board.
Steve Linkous was recognized before the walk as the top fundraiser for the third year in a row for raising more than $19,000. Linkous wore bright red, 5-inch leather Mary Janes on the walk from The Mill of Bel Air to MaGerks Pub & Grill.
MaGerks pledged 10 percent of their lunch sales Saturday to SARC.
Linkous said asking for donations is also a great method of raising awareness, but he added that almost "everyone you ask knows someone in their family or group of friends that's been a victim."
More than $40,000 had been raised through Saturday's event, according Luisa Caiazzo, the CEO of SARC, who also said afterward that "the money's still coming in."
The services provided by SARC include legal and counseling services, a shelter and a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year help line, Kelsey Luchey, SARC's associate director of development, explained. Volunteers also visit victims in the hospital.
More information can be found online at http://www.sarc-maryland.org/ the help line can be reached at 410-836-8430.
Wearing silver strappy heels, Maxwell Wray, 16, of Bel Air, did his first walk Saturday.
"There were a lot of cracks I had to look out for, but according to everyone I did very well," he said.
Maxwell, who is a sophomore in the Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School, added: "One in three women in their entire life will be abused at some point, and that's unacceptable."
He said he does not know anyone who has been through domestic abuse but said, "I have heard stories."
"It's very hidden, so it doesn't get as much attention as it deserves at all," he said.
Top elected officials in Harford County also lent their support – County Council President Billy Boniface, Councilman Chad Shrodes and Sheriff Jesse Bane could be seen with their fellow walkers in brightly-colored high heels.
Boniface, a longtime supporter of the walk, served as the honorary chair for Saturday's event.
"How rewarding it is, to look six years later and how many people are out here supporting this cause," Boniface told the crowd gathered in The Mill's parking lot before the walk began
He talked about how critical the funds raised are for SARC's mission.
"Especially at a time when our federal government and our state government keep reducing funding to us, the funds that we raise through this program really help with them providing the services that are so vital in our community," Boniface said.
Bane noted the way law enforcement handled domestic violence incident during the early 1970s was "pitiful." He said officers would not get involved in situations and would just refer a victim to a court commissioner.
"I would never have imagined this back in 1972 [the year Bane joined the Sheriff's Office], and looking at the men that are here I think that is a very good indication of the support in Harford County, Maryland and in this country that the women now have that they should have had a long time ago," the sheriff said.
Bane said "there is still way too much domestic violence," though, and he encouraged those present to keep fighting it.
One walker said he has dealt with a loved one's struggle with domestic violence.
Doni Amato, 21, of Havre de Grace, took part in his first walk Saturday, walking on behalf of a woman he considers his mother.
"Since I was in middle school, she took me in as one of her own kids, and she's the only family I have, and I will not let anyone lay a hand on her," he said,
The woman, whom he did not name for her safety, took him under her wing when he was in middle school and struggling with his sexual orientation.
"She's been in a lot of bad relationships where men will beat her and use her," he said.
Amato explained she was the first person that he told he was gay, and his biological family "disowned" him when he came out to them.
He talked after the walk about intervening when she was being attacked by a man, and dealing with the lingering psychological damage of abuse.
"It is scary trying to wake your mom up from a nightmare and having her think you're one of the men that has beat her or used her," Amato said.
He said SARC has helped his mother "a lot," and the organization has been there any time she has needed assistance.
"They don't ask for money," Amato said. "They're there to help you 24 hours a day, regardless of whether it's a holiday, regardless of the time and regardless of the weather."