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Real men wear heels

A team huddles before taking to the street at last year's Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event in Red Wing. Participants don specially made high-heeled shoes to help raise funds and bring awareness to sexual assault and gender violence issues.

The Red Wing office of the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, SARA, is asking local men if they have what it takes to walk a mile in women's shoes.

The fifth annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes to raise awareness for sexual assault and gender violence will be April 20 at Central Park in downtown Red Wing.

"The event keeps growing each year," said Katherine Cross, program coordinator for SARA. "We continue to keep the same men who do it year after year, and we get new people every year as well."

Participants are given specially designed high-heeled shoes to wear on a one-mile course through downtown Red Wing.

"The great thing about these shoes is that they're built for men," SARA executive director Emily Baldwin said. The shoes come in men's sizes and feature a reinforced steel rod in the heel.

"These guys can really put their full weight on them," Baldwin said. "They're very durable."

The goal is to raise funds and promote awareness, Cross said. But the event also gives men an opportunity to show their support for a sometimes uncomfortable topic.

"It can be difficult for a lot of men to speak up on this issue because they're afraid they might say the wrong thing," Baldwin said. "In a topic like this men can often be viewed as the bad guys, and that's just not true."

Baldwin said in years past walkers start out feeling very uncomfortable, even waiting until the very last minute to put on their shoes.

"But about two minutes into the walk, they're having the time of their lives," she said. "And when they're done they don't want to give the shoes back."

Men participate as individuals or in teams, Cross said. But rarely do they walk alone.

"A lot of girlfriends, wives and daughters will walk alongside them," Baldwin said. It is very beneficial to have women in the community walking with them and providing support, she said.

@Sub heads:Endemic problem

@Normal1: Baldwin said awareness programs are important to end a steady trend of sexual violence in American society.

"Usually when we talk about things like violence, we talk about it being an epidemic in America," Baldwin said. "But when it comes to sexual violence and gender-based violence, the health community has really redefined it as an endemic problem."

"We're not seeing declines or increases," she said.

President Barack Obama declared April National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in a proclamation March 29.

"All Americans can play a role in changing the culture that enables sexual violence," according to Obama's proclamation. "Each of us can take action by lifting up survivors we know and breaking the silence surrounding rape and sexual assault."

"This is a steady problem that we try to do as much prevention work as we can, but with funding problems, realistically we do Band-Aid work," Baldwin said.

Fundraisers like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes allow SARA to provide direct-services and education programs.

"Education is important to prevention," Baldwin said. "We're trying to switch this from an endemic to a solvable problem."

The deadline to participate in the walk was March 15. SARA will accept late entries, but shoe sizes can no longer be guaranteed. The cost is $25 for individuals and $150 for groups of up to 10.

For more information, call the Red Wing SARA office at 651-388-9360 ext. 13.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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