By Chris Stone and Ken Stone
Dennis Ellis, 50, walked in women’s 6-inch heels Saturday along Market Street. And was hurting.
But not just because his women’s size-16 black shoes were uncomfortable
His pain was personal.
“I’m out here because it’s an important issue to raise money so that people with domestic violence can have a shelter and they can get away from their abusers,” he said at the 11th annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.“It’s personal to me because my father wasn’t a good guy. And so I’m here to break the cycle.”
It was his eighth time joining other men — perhaps a couple dozen in the slanting shoes — and more than 100 other marchers who started at Martin Luther King Promenade Park.
“I’ve slowly gotten higher (heels) each year,” said the San Diegan, on the sidewalk. “And I’ve done this size a couple times before.”
A fundraiser for YWCA San Diego and Becky’s House, a shelter for abused women, the event celebrated progress in the war against domestic violence.
In 1986, San Diego authorities recorded 36 domestic violence homicides, San Diego police Capt. Bernie Colon told the crowd under cloudy skies and cool temperatures.
“So far in 2018, we’re down to four,” he said. “That’s still four too many. However, it is a huge indicator as to how the work of the San Diego law enforcement, our partners like YWCA and Becky’s House are helping make San Diego one of the safest cities in America.”
Several speakers, including City Attorney Mara Elliott, quoted the estimate that 1-in-4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.
“We’re now quoting 1-in-7 men” as well, said county YWCA CEO Heather Finlay. “We usually have between 6,500 and 7,500 hot line calls a year.”
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Finlay saluted men taking up the cause.
“It really is helpful to have men talking to other men and boys about what is respectful and what being a man means. And what strength means,” she said. “It’s not brutalizing someone else, or taking advantage of someone else. It is respecting that other person.”
She couldn’t cite figures on whether her group has seen an uptick in sex-assault reports in the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and Christine Blasey Ford testimony.
“For our domestic violence hot line, it’s hard to tell because we have so many people calling,” she said, including family and friends seeking information on how to help a loved one.
But she said that in 2017, just over 17,000 domestic violence cases cases were reported in San Diego County to law enforcement, “and we know that the majority of cases are never reported.”
Finlay said she thought the situation would improve with the generations, thanks to better education.
“It takes a long time to shift culture and to shift people’s mind-sets on what’s acceptable behavior,” she said. “But we’ve done it.”
As that culture changes, she said, “I think even older generations that feel like this is changing so much will start to see why this makes sense.”
Finlay didn’t mention by name figures in the Supreme Court confirmation drama, but said: “Very few women fabricate sexual assault. Very few women … come forward because it’s so challenging to them. Many people don’t believe them. There’s shame involved with it, sadly, because they somehow think it’s partly their fault, which it’s not.”
She was asked why some women didn’t support other women.
Finlay said it required listening to the stories of the victims and their experiences.
“That’s when you start to understand what it really does to someone emotionally and psychologically…. And then you can understand … the challenges that have been projected in the news, such as “There are things she doesn’t remember” or “Why did she wait this long to come forward?”
Finlay says she wants to see a change in the rhetoric.
“We need to make sure that men are doing what they need to do in order to respect women,” she said.
At the park, the male walkers were warned that their heels would sink in the wet grass. But mainly they stayed on sidewalks from K Street to First Avenue to Market to Fifth Avenue and then back to the park on K.
One man said the hardest part was putting on the shoes. (A small booth was available to lend high heels. Man had trouble finding ones wide enough.)
“It’s stressful balancing while you put them on,” said Mike Zill of North County, in his third year at the walk. “It’s like getting into stilts.
He added that he figures maybe 10 years into it, “I’ll have a polished walk. But right now it’s still manly.”
Zill said the event was important.
“We all need to focus on this issue of domestic violence,” he said. “And this is a way to do it.”
The two biggest concerns for the walkers were blisters and twisted ankles.
Coming across grates in the sidewalk, one man said: “I have a new appreciation for road hazards.”
City Attorney Elliott gave some helpful advice as the high-heelers set off.
“Have a safe walk,” she said. “And for the men out there, if you get lost, don’t be afraid to ask for directions.”
Women laughed and applauded.
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