Nick “Whispers” Boosalas sighed with relief as a friend peeled the ruby slippers from his feet. Both giggled at the sight of the gaudy, sparkling high heels.
Boosalas was one of about 150 men who slipped on women’s shoes — and in some cases clothing — as part of the Shasta Women’s Refuge’s annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event Saturday in downtown Redding.
Boosalas walked in honor of his sister, who he said was violently attacked and beaten as a teenager.
“She told me that during the attack she wished that she could click her heels together and go home, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz,” he said. “Of course, she couldn’t do that.”
It’s the third year the event has been in Redding. It’s one of hundreds of similar events held worldwide each April – also known as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The walks are intended to raise awareness about domestic and sexual abuse and money to help victims and fund prevention programs, said Maggie John, executive director of the Shasta Women’s Refuge, which organized the walk.
“We think it went phenomenally well,” John said. “Every year it seems to get more and more interesting. It’s a fun event and it touches me a great deal to see men taking a stand against domestic violence.”
An estimate on the amount of money raised wasn’t available this weekend, though each participant was asked to raise a minimum of $100 to benefit the Women’s Refuge. The refuge operates a shelter on Benton Street in Redding, providing counseling and outreach services to about 3,000 victims of domestic violence and sexual assault each year, John said.
Statistics show the effects of sexual and domestic abuse are widespread and more common than many may realize.
Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, which in 2007 (the most recent statistics available) translated to 248,300 victims, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN. A woman is beaten every 15 seconds. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between ages 15 and 44 in the United States — more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined.
About 1.3 women are forcibly raped each minute in the United States. One in three women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted before age 18. One in six women and one in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, RAINN reports.
However serious the cause may be, attendees at Saturday’s event were all smiles. Women and children cheered for the men sporting varying degrees of drag and from all walks of life. The men strutted their stuff around a mile-long course that began and finished at the north end of the Market Street Promenade. Walkers started east on Tehama Street about 10 a.m. They turned south on Pine Street, then west on Placer Street and north through the promenade. The second leg took them west on Tehama Street, south on California Street to eastbound Placer Street and finally back to the finish line.
Anderson Police detective Robert Modin wore an extra-large pair of platform heels that looked as if he’d swiped them from the dressing room at a KISS concert. Modin, who is also the president of the Anderon Police Officer’s Association, said he and his fellow officers wanted to do something to help the cause. His shoes were funny, but his reason for participating was based on his experience as a cop.
“We see these women going through these things first-hand and thought that this was a good way to show our support and to raise some money for a good cause,” Modin said.
Others agreed that it was a worthy cause — but also thought it would be funny to walk around downtown dressed like a woman.
“My friend just told me about it yesterday and I thought it sounded like fun,” said Matthew Lang, a 22-year-old from Red Bluff who wore a black bustier and a pair of sensible sandals.
Lang’s walking partner, Sam Wells, also of Red Bluff, wore gray leather high-heeled boots, falsie breasts and a women’s cut t-shirt that highlighted his biceps.
“I walked last year and have done work with the women’s refuge before,” the 25-year-old said. “We just come up here to have some fun and participate for a good cause.”
A keen eye could catch a subtle difference between veteran and rookie walkers as the crowd of high-heel clad men dispersed, shortly before noon. The rookies seemed to be hobbling a bit more than were the veterans.
“The difference is in the shoes,” said Redding resident Gary Hayward, a three-year veteran of the walk. “We went to the drag queen (Web) sites and found shoes that fit.”
Reporter Brian Hazle is a Shasta County freelance journalist. He can be reached at 619-822-6868 or firstname.lastname@example.org