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Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event raises awareness, benefits Sexual Assault Services

The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence event took place Aug. 21, 2021, in the parking lot of Mills Ford in Baxter. Proceeds from the annual event to raise awareness will benefit Sexual Assault Services Inc. in Brainerd.

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People walk, many in high heels, along Dellwood Drive Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, during The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence event at Mills Ford in Baxter. The event benefited Sexual Assault Services Inc. in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Men in high heels may look funny to some but sexual assault is no laughing matter.

Men, women and children in The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence were encouraged to wear high heels to show solidarity and raise awareness at the event at Mills Ford in Baxter Saturday, Aug. 21.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes gallery

“A lot of folks who take these ideas of what it means to be a man tend to also help create the conditions that allow for sexual violence to actually happen in our communities,” said Pheng Thao, the keynote speaker from Men As Peacemakers at Saturday’s outdoor event.

Nationally, men perpetrate 92% of physical assaults against women, according to the Duluth-based organization that engages men in preventing and repairing the harm caused by men.

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“We need your presence, we need your support. And we also need the men in our lives and in our communities to take a stand. And that's what this walk is about,” added Heidi Fairchild, lead advocate of Sexual Assault Services Inc. in Brainerd.

The participants in the 13th annual event raised awareness and money for the Brainerd-based nonprofit on Northwest Fifth Street with registration fees, by bidding on silent auction items at the fundraiser, purchasing raffle tickets or buying refreshments in the parking lot of Mills Ford.

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Ariel Erickson of Baxter and Adam Sparrow of Pillager look at the women's shoes available to borrow for fundraising participants at “The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence” in the parking lot of Mills Ford in Baxter on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“I’m here for the same reason I think everyone's here — just to help raise awareness and support a really good cause,” said Adam Sparrow, co-founder and executive director of Brainerd Lakes Pride, an organization that supports the LGBTQIA+ community.

The 30-year-old husband and father from Pillager wore 6-inch stiletto work boots he found on Amazon.com. Sparrow described wearing the women’s size 15 shoes as “painful” even though he was trying to get used to walking in them the night before Saturday’s walking-based event.

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“Last night, we actually had some friends over for dinner and I wore these around the house the entire night. They told me I looked like a baby gazelle walking around,” said Sparrow, who is 6 feet, 3 inches tall. “They told me not to fall over.”

Sparrow participated in the annual fundraiser two years ago; the event was not hosted last year in the Brainerd lakes area because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“Sexual assault — depending on the situation — can have a very long-term effect on a person,” said Sparrow, a behavior therapist. “I mean that can haunt you for quite some time, and it's a process to work through that and be able to cope with it.”

Proceeds from the event will benefit Sexual Assault Services, which provides support services for victims affected by sexual assault and exploitation. The Brainerd nonprofit’s stated mission is “to bring hope, healing and empowerment to those affected by sexual abuse and exploitation.”

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“This year, our numbers have reached a record high. We have served over 200 victims so far this year, from the ages of 3 on up into the 80s. And it's not slowing down,” Fairchild told attendees at the The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event.

Sexual Assault Services provides 24-hour sexual assault crisis intervention and support services, accompaniment for forensic collection/rape kits, trauma-informed crisis counseling services, assistance within the criminal justice and civil court systems, and more.

RELATED: Sexual Assault Services seeks volunteers
“All of our victims knew their perpetrator. It was either family, neighbor or somebody that they dated, but the perpetrator was known and that is common,” Fairchild said in her opening remarks about the nonprofit’s clients.

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Sexual Assault Services assistance is confidential, free of charge, “and driven by the needs of the individuals impacted by sexual violence,” according to its website.


“When you hear sexual assault, people think ‘stranger rape’ and ‘stranger danger,’ but over 90% are acquaintance, 34% of child sexual abuse is a family member, so that's the reality.”

— Heidi Fairchild, lead advocate of Sexual Assault Services Inc. in Brainerd


“When you hear sexual assault, people think ‘stranger rape’ and ‘stranger danger,’ but over 90% are acquaintance, 34% of child sexual abuse is a family member, so that's the reality,” Fairchild explained.

Ariel Erickson knows what Fairchild was talking about. The 30-year-old wife and mother of four from Baxter was part of the six-member Brainerd Lakes Pride walking team that included two of her children.

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Crow Wing County Sheriff Chief Deputy Andy Galles checks his phone while wearing a pair of women's high heels as he waits for “The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence” to begin Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in the parking lot of Mills Ford in Baxter. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“They have seen their mom go through an actual really hard domestic abusive relationship, so they know that's why we're here is to fight against that and sexual assault,” Erickson said in 6-inch heels as she watched her daughter and son also walk around in heels at the fundraiser.

Males were encouraged to walk in high-heeled shoes at the event to “actively confront gender stereotypes and expectations … talking about sex and gender biases, gender identity, gender relations and men’s sexualized violence.”

“Without men speaking up and helping to change the way society looks at sexual abuse, we can't win this war. And we need every single one of you and we appreciate it,” Fairchild told those at the event.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

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I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write articles for the Wadena Pioneer Journal weekly newspaper owned by Forum Communications Co.
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