An annual event in Pittsfield, Massachusetts has added significance this year.
The “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” stroll through downtown Pittsfield features decorated, flashy high-heel women’s shoes worn by both women and men. As part of the city’s 3rd Thursday festival lineup, the annual event raises money for the Elizabeth Freeman Center, a non-profit that offers prevention courses and services for victims of domestic and sexual violence. Jen Glockner is the city’s cultural development director.
“Hundreds of people show up and very, very well respected men in the community in these outrageous high-heels,” Glockner said. “Me, myself would never wear high-heels and walk a mile in these shoes, but we so appreciate all of the men that are doing it. They have raised money before they even walk and they have their buckets out there raising money along the walk, but most important they are raising awareness for this very serious issue.”
Domestic violence has been the subject of a national conversation after recent cases involving high-profile NFL players being sidelined by their teams and the league, ham-handedly in the eyes of many critics, because of their actions off the field. Becca Bradburd is director of operations at the Freeman Center.
“We appreciate the attention that the domestic and sexual violence are getting now, certainly with everything happening in the NFL, but the important thing to remember is that this is always happening,” Bradburd said. “Most of the time it’s swept under the rug. This march is really about saying ‘no more.’”
Bradburd says at the center’s group meetings there has been more talk about victim-blaming, which she says can be used by people to distance themselves from the topic.
“What is it about that person that it happened to them and wouldn’t happen to me?” she explained. ”When in reality, that’s a fallacy. Victim-blaming is actually also a tactic of abuse. So abusers will often deny, minimize and blame. ‘You should have cooked the dinner better and that’s why I ended up hitting.’
The Freeman Center was founded in 1974, named for Mumbet, a slave who was given to a family in Sheffield, Massachusetts. With the help of Stockbridge attorney, she was among the first slaves in the commonwealth to sue for her freedom and win. Upon being freed in 1781, she changed her named to Elizabeth Freeman and moved to Stockbridge, where she is buried.
In 2013, the Freeman Center assisted more than 3,100 victims of domestic and sexual violence in Berkshire County. But as Bradburd explains, many keep quiet.
“Think about having to leave your home, your family, your job and everything you know right now,” Bradburd said. “Those things, home, job, family, community exert a strong pull on us for a reason.”
Bradburd says some also stay in abusive relationships for financial reasons and fear of shame if they report it. The Twitter #WhyIStayed that has grown in the wake of the cases involving NFL players has produced reasons such as wanting a child to have a mother or father. The Freeman Center also reaches about 1,600 middle and high school students through prevention courses.
“Talking about what healthy relationships look like, bystander intervention and what you can do to stand up if you see something that doesn’t look right or talking to a teacher or someone who might be better able to handle the situation,” explained Bradburd.
Last year the event raised nearly $40,000 with some 400 walkers. Because of funding decisions, the Freeman Center is now facing a $50,000 budget shortfall.
“It is a really fun event about a really serious topic and it is also incredibly moving,” Bradburd said. “It’s called a ‘men’s march,’ but everyone can march. Women, men, children…they all come out.”
Registration begins at 5 at Park Square with the walk set to start at 6. Shoes and decorations will be available as well.
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn says last year’s flashy display of camouflage stilettos was painful, but still plans to make a splash at today’s march.
“If you’re a fan of [the television show] NCIS, we took a page from Abby Schiuto, the forensic scientist, and I’ve got some Abby-style combat boots with big platform heels,” Wynn revealed. “In order to generate some additional funds we’ve actually put advertising for local businesses on them in return for some donations.”