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Men walk in women's shoes, draw attention to sexual assault

Guy Almony, 17, of Baltimore, wobbled through downtown Westminster in a pair of red high heels alongside 11 other young men from Silver Oak Academy, a residential program for at-risk young men between the ages of 14 and 19, on Saturday morning.

Guy Almony, 17, of Baltimore, wobbled through downtown Westminster in a pair of red high heels alongside 11 other young men from Silver Oak Academy, a residential program for at-risk young men between the ages of 14 and 19, on Saturday morning.

They carried a banner that read, "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes", leading a crowd of more than 150 people through downtown Westminster on Saturday morning. The walk was held to draw attention to the issues of sexual assault and rape, for the seventh annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men's March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault and Gender Violence event.

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The walk, which began at 11 a.m. in Dutterer Park, is part of a string of events held nationally, a lighthearted way for men to raise awareness about the serious topic of sexual assault and violence against women in their communities.

Men are encouraged to wear high heels, "making them very vulnerable, which is putting them [in] a woman's shoes who has been sexually violated," said Katy Tote, outreach specialist for the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County. The event was a fundraiser for the organization, a nonprofit that provides free counseling and support services to victims of sexual assault and their families.

Tote, who grew up in Carroll County, said the common misconception is that sexual violence and assault are rare in the community.

"I think we all think it's a small, rural town … nothing happens in," Tote said. "People are just very hush-hush about topics, so my goal is to get it [spoken] about."

RCIS of Carroll County is the only organization of its kind in the county serving sexual assault and rape victims who are 12 and older, Tote said. In its fiscal year between 2013 and 2014, the organization served about 100 clients more than the previous year, Tote said.

Nicole Kyker, clinical director of Silver Oak Academy, who participated in the walk with her students — referred to the academy in Keymar by the Department of Juvenile Services. "We describe it as a second chance for young men," Kyker said.

"Most of the young men have been touched by some type of violence … the guys sign up for this walk; we don't choose them," Kyker said.

Almony said sexual assault has affected his family. "I think it's important that everybody be aware and know about it," he said.

Susan Trueblood, 53, of Taneytown, who was among the walkers, said she had experienced sexual assault many years ago.

"It's important to have a place where victims can get the resources they need," Trueblood said. "It's also important to have a conversation with everybody about the topic of sexual assault and violence."

Trueblood was impressed by the turnout, though fewer attended the event this year than last.

"It's great to see the wide age ranges and see the schools getting involved," she remarked.

Students from McDaniel College and Francis Scott Key High School walked for the cause.

Andrew Miller, of Rockville, a recent graduate of St. Joseph's University, was wearing a pair of red patent leather high heels. He attended the walk with his sister, who attends McDaniel College.

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"These high heels make me feel like I'm drunk," Miller said, trying to regain his balance. "The wind's not helping."

Miller, who has known four women who were victims of sexual assault, said he was at the event to "stop sexual violence against women."

"It's really hard to find help," he said.

Some youngsters got an early lesson on sexual assault and violence.

Riley Jones, 9, a student at Cranberry Station Elementary School, was wearing a pair of black platform boots, loaned to him by his grandmother Cathie Jones.

Riley said it is important to take stand for women because "they don't deserve to be hurt."

Cathie Jones, who stood with her husband, Jim Jones, said they have been attending the event since it first started.

She said they brought Riley to "teach him that abusing women is not OK."

Josh Bronson, 35, assistant director and special investigator for the newly created Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct at the University of Maryland, College Park, said after the walk that the hot orange platforms he donned were, "surprisingly not that bad."

Bronson, a McDaniel alumnus and former assistant director of campus safety at the school, brought his two daughters to the event.

Although having daughters made him think more about violence against women out of a concern for their safety, he said that isn't his main motivation for advocating against sexual assault and violence.

"At the end of the day, we should be thinking about people as people," Bronson said. "Nobody deserves to be treated violently — we need to change the way society thinks about violence."

For more information about services and resources at RCIS, go to rapecrisiscc.org.

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twitter.com/LaurenLoricchio

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