More than 200 took to the streets to speak out against rape and sexual assault at the annual Walk A Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser.
More than 200 survivors, supporters and advocates took to the streets Saturday morning to speak out against rape and sexual assault at the annual Walk A Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser.
As the marchers made their way along Main Street, passing by those waiting to get into the PEEPshow and participants in Westminster's annual Easter egg hunt, pedestrians stopped to cheer on the message as cars driving by honked their horns in support.
The walk was started nine years ago to support Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, which provides free counseling, a 24-hour hotline, and other support services to victims of sexual violence and their families. The organization, founded in 1978, also provides information on prevention and advocacy throughout the community.
Each year, the organization sets a goal of raising $15,000, though RCIS CEO Janice Kispert said most years it falls short of the goal. This year, organizers anticipate they'll bring in about $7,500 through community members' fundraising efforts. She said every dollar raised goes toward the services that directly impact survivors of sexual violence and their families.
Though the funds are vital to RCIS' mission, Kispert said an equally important aspect of the walk is promoting awareness of sexual violence among the public.
"So many people, both men and women, are affected by sexual violence," Kispert said. "Pretty much everyone has someone in their life who has been affected. One in six people have. It's a silent epidemic, so this is a way to get people talking."
During the event, many of the walkers, men and women, donned high heels in order to literally walk a mile in "her" shoes. In addition, most in the crowd carried signs, provided by event organizers, with a mixture of factual, inspirational and outraged signs with messages like "Walk the Walk," "Silence is Not Consent," "Rape Hurts All of Us," "I Respect Women" and "Break the Silence."
Many of the walkers attended in groups, as different organizations and businesses sent their own teams to walk alongside the other advocates. Members of McDaniel College's Phi Sigma Sigma came out to the walk to support RCIS, a nonprofit they raise funds for throughout the year. Tori Simmons, of Phi Sigma Sigma, said it's one of the most important local groups to help.
"It's a woman's organization, and this affects us so clearly," Simmons said. "I think it's a touchy subject, and a lot of people try to avoid it. This walk says it's OK to talk about it and it's OK to get help. We're all here to support you."
The walk began at Dutterer Family Park in Westminster, before heading down Main Street to finish at Westminster City Park. At Dutterer, while groups were signing up and gathering, organizers displayed signs with sexual violence statistics from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Facts displayed included that "1 in 6 women are a victim of sexual assault," "Every two minutes, someone in the USA is sexually assaulted," and "17.7 million women in the U.S. have been victims of attempted or completed rapes."
One group of walkers were there in support of their friend, Jessica Hoops, who herself was a survivor. Hoops said she encouraged them to come out with her to help out RCIS and "to spread awareness that 'no' means 'no' no matter what."
Hoops' friend Riley Nastase said this was his first time wearing heels, and he was struck by how difficult it is to walk in them, particularly after they reached the grass. Nastase said this kind of event is vital for people from all walks of life to support.
"I think it's important for guys to come out to this to make a statement and let women see that there are guys willing to stand up against this kind of thing," Nastase said. "It's not everybody against one. Some of us are willing to show up."