Community members walk in heels to raise sexual assault awareness

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Madeline Fox/The Daily Northwestern

A man walks in heels Sunday through Evanston’s Centennial Park for “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.” The event, hosted by nonprofit Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault, aimed to raise awareness of sexual assault and bring support to survivors.

Madeline Fox, Reporter

Dozens of men wearing heels took to the bike path of an Evanston park Sunday to raise awareness for sexual assault.

“Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” which took place in Centennial Park, is the first awareness event the Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault has hosted. The agency provides free services in Cook County to sexual assault survivors and their loved ones.

“It’s really performance art,” said Rebecca Navickis, Northwest CASA’s fundraising and events coordinator. “It’s men doing this to say ‘I stand with these survivors.’”

Eighty-eight participants, both men and women, registered for the event, and more signed up Sunday morning. The men received a T-shirt and a pair of red heels at check-in. However, some attendees, such as Evanston police officer candidate Amin Virani, brought their own heels.

“I didn’t know they would be giving us heels, so I thought I’d better go out and buy some,” said Virani, who opted for black peep toes.

Participants included staff members at Northwest CASA, their families, officers from the Evanston Police Department and other members of the Chicago area community.

“One of my friends told me about this cause, and I have two daughters, so it really hits home for me,” participant John Bettasso said. The Lake Zurich, Illinois, resident pulled one of his daughters in a wagon as he walked.

Participating men and women walked a half mile along the bike path before turning around and walking back to complete the mile. The route, which ran through the park near the intersection of Sheridan Road and Clark Street, was lined with signs that displayed facts and statistics about sexual assault.

Some participants, such as Jim Huenink, executive director of the Northwest CASA in Arlington Heights, ran in their heels for part of the mile.

“I figured I was in pain anyway, why not get it over with faster?” Huenink said.

NWCASA opened its newest Evanston location in the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center this year, moving out of its previous home at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore.

“For many of our clients, access to services is a real issue,” Huenink said. “Our services are free, but we’ve always known that it was necessary to build a satellite office in Evanston.”

The Evanston location provides the same services as Northwest CASA’s headquarters in Arlington Heights, Illinois, including counseling for victims and their loved ones, prevention programs in schools and advocacy at hospitals, emergency rooms and courts through its 24-hour hotline.

Since moving to Evanston, Northwest CASA has seen a lot of demand for its services, Huenink said. The agency currently has one full-time and one part-time counselor on staff.

“What we’ve seen since we’ve been in Evanston is that the need for our services is greater than we can staff,” Huenink said. “I think the first expansion we’ll do in Evanston is increasing the staffing, and then after that we’ll look for more space so we can have additional staff there.”

To be able to expand, the Northwest CASA has to first distribute information to the community about sexual assault and the center’s services, which was the idea behind “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” he said.

Enjoli Daley, an Evanston police officer who is on the board of Northwest CASA, helped plan and facilitate the event.

“It’s really just out-of-the-box thinking — guys walking around in heels is not something you see every day,” said Daley. “Any time you can get a group of people together and help bring awareness to a worthy cause, I think that’s a good idea.”

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