St. Louis City Police Chief Sam Dotson hiked up his pants a bit and then asked the crowd: “Do my shoes match my gun?”
Dotson was one of more than 100 men, many of them members of local law enforcement, who walked a mile in hot pink high heels on Saturday morning as part of an event organized by the YWCA of St. Louis that was aimed at raising awareness about sexual assault.
Even though the mood was light-hearted; organizers drove home the point that the issue is deadly serious.
East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks joined Dotson in sporting a pair of high heels, and said there have been two homicides in East St. Louis in recent days that were tied to sexual assault.
“You’ve got to have individuals who are training young boys, to really get inside their heads that we respect, we protect, we nurture, we do everything we can to really uphold our women,” Parks said. “That we never force them to do something against their will.”
Christina Meneses, education supervisor for the YWCA, said in addition to training boys about what is and is not acceptable behavior toward women, a big part of solving the problem is having strong male role models in the community who are vocal in their support for ending sexual violence.
“They can think to themselves, ‘you know what, I know that there are other guys who believe what I believe,” Meneses said.
YWCA’s St. Louis Regional Sexual Assault Center provides a 24-hour crisis hotline, around the clock in-person intervention to victims of sexual assault at all adult hospitals in St. Louis and locations requested by the St. Louis Police Department.
Last year, nearly 900 victims of sexual violence received services from the center.
Kathleen Hanrahan, community advocate with the YWCA, echoed Meneses' sentiment and said events like the one held on Saturday can help break the silence that often surrounds sexual assault.
“I think the most critical issue in ending sexual violence in our world is to end the silence,” Hanrahan said. “Every event like this, every conversation we have with young men, every conversation we have on a campus or in a school, is working to eliminate the silence around this issue.”
St. Louis Mayor, Francis Slay, spoke during the event and took a moment to praise Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) for her on-going efforts to curb sexual assault in the military.
“This is what this gets down to,” Slay said. “Not only raising awareness but setting the example, letting people know that this is wrong and trying to get more and more people involved in recognizing the situation, reporting problems and letting women and other victims of sexual violence known that there is hope and that there is help.”
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