Josef Williams removed his sneakers and slipped into a pair of red high heels Thursday morning before stumbling to a microphone in front of Shryock Auditorium.
“This shows that men are aware that sexual violence is happening on college campuses,” he said. “We want to be a part of the solution to get the statistics to go down.”
Williams and about 30 fraternity members paraded around the campus as part of a national campaign titled “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” to spread sexual assault awareness. Williams, Interfraternity Council’s vice president of special events and member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, coordinated with other fraternities and the Women’s Center to host the event at the university.
Participants wore red or black high heels as they hobbled from Shryock Auditorium to the Student Center, through Thompson Woods, passing Morris Library before returning to the auditorium for a reception.
Kiera Yard, a sophomore from Aurora studying behavior analysis and therapy, walked alongside the fraternity members in support of a cause she said is close to her heart.
Yard was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend at the time when she was a teenager. She attempted suicide and was admitted to a mental health institution after the assault.
“There is a perception that when you’re dating it can’t be rape, but that’s wrong,” Yard said. “I am a Christian, and I made the promise to God that I was not going to have sex, and that was taken from me.”
Yard said she was paranoid she would be assaulted again in college. She said she overcame her fears by talking about her experience and realizing it was not her fault.
“All these men who are bringing awareness for women’s safety is really important to me, and I thank them a lot,” Yard said.
Laura VanAbbema, lead medical advocate for rape crisis services at the Women’s Center, spoke at the event about rape culture on college campuses and the meaning of full consent. She also outlined preventative measures people can take to reduce sexual assault numbers in southern Illinois.
“Statistics show that one in four women of college age will be sexually assaulted,” VanAbbema said. “If you do suffer from sexual assault, come and seek help at services like the Women’s Center, as it is vital for recovery.”
Yard said the attention the fraternity members caused will spark necessary discussions about sexual assault.
“Events like this make you feel kind of normal; this happens to people and you’re not alone,” Yard said.
Staff writer Athena Chrysanthou can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Chrysant1Athena.
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