Spotlight on domestic violence with Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

·5 min read

Oct. 22—Amy Epperson participates each year in the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event that raises awareness about domestic violence and local resources to aid victims because she was once a victim.

"This event is amazing because it brings awareness to domestic violence," and the Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center "has helped me in the past," Epperson said. "I want to give back, (because) I'm a survivor, and I'm proof there is help" available.

The Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center, a nonprofit that helps victims of domestic violence, serves Whitfield, Gordon and Murray counties and provides services to women, men and children. The center's hotline can be reached at (706) 278-5586.

"A myth out there is you have to stay in the shelter to receive services," but that's not the case, as outpatient assistance is available in all three counties, said Natalie Johnson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Dalton State College. "There's also the national hotline, (800) 799-7233," the chat function on the National Domestic Violence website (thehotline.org) and the text feature (text "START" to 88788).

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and participants in Walk a Mile in Her Shoes are encouraged to wear high heels to get a glimpse into a female perspective, although it's crucial to remember men and boys also are domestic violence victims, said Johnson, who teaches courses on family violence and victimology. "Domestic violence is not only physical, but sexual, psychological and financial."

A fourth of women and 1 in 9 men experience intimate partner violence and stalking, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Roughly 20% of college students say they have been abused by an intimate partner, and nearly a third admit to having committed assault against their partner at some time.

Often, finances are a barrier to a victim leaving a domestic violence situation, as he or she is "dependent" on the abuser, Johnson said. Even those who do leave aren't always immune, as roughly 75% of women killed annually by intimate partners in America are "either in the process of leaving or have already left."

"We can't forget about the kids, either," she said. In 2019, nearly 2,000 children died of abuse and neglect in the United States, and "that's almost certainly undercounted."

Georgia is in the top 10 of states for most domestic violence homicides, and abusers are often "charming, charismatic and giving" early in relationships, with abuse beginning later and subtly, she said. It may eventually progress to physical abuse, but psychological abuse can be worse, as "bruises and cuts can heal, but mind wounds don't."

Another pernicious impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in domestic violence due to "the isolation," said Epperson, a member of the Family Crisis Center's board. "It's a lot easier to hide when you don't go out."

For the past decade, the center has been sponsoring the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes in Whitfield, Gordon and Murray counties, and Dalton State College's criminal justice club, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, has hosted the event on campus for several years.

"This year, we broke our record for the most (money) ever received, $1,600, and that doesn't count all the sponsorships," Johnson said. "That's just Dalton State faculty, staff and students, and community members."

Freshman Emma Roerdink walked in this event for the first time Tuesday, brought by her cousin, Esther James, a junior, she said: "I wanted to support this cause."

Roerdink and James were decked out in purple outfits purposely to draw attention on campus so they could raise awareness, answer any questions and encourage donations, said the latter. "We figured we'd go hard."

James learned about the event through her sociology class taught by Johnson, and she believes it's crucial to raise the domestic violence issue on college campuses.

"According to the statistics, lots of people we see in class" are in domestic violence relationships, so it's important "they know they have a voice," she said. "They can speak up to a friend, a teacher or a counselor."

"I feel like there's still that stigma, though," around domestic and intimate partner abuse, she said. "People are still fearful."

"That's one of the reasons I want to be a therapist," said the psychology major. "I want to end that stigma, but I also want people to feel comfortable talking" in the here and now.

Many youth "go through it, but they might not know it's wrong, unless people talk about it," said senior criminal justice major Caitlen Troglin, who walked in this event for the first time Tuesday and hopes to one day work for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's human trafficking and exploitation unit. "It's one of those taboo topics people don't talk about."

As Dalton State's assistant director for student conduct and deputy Title IX coordinator, William Mast often contends with concerns like those spotlighted Tuesday, so "I wanted to practice what I preach" by not only taking part in the walk, but by doing so in high heels, he said. "It gives (people) an image to see to connect everything."

And he found his red heels from a source one might not expect, he said with a laugh.

"I bought them from a drag show website, because I wanted to get my size."

Sophomore Chase Hornsby wished he would have thought more about shoe size with his heels, which he borrowed from a friend.

"My toes are sticking out," he said with a chuckle. "My feet hurt."

His participation was no laughing matter, however, as combating domestic violence and intimate partner abuse is his fraternity's focus, he said.

"I'm the president of Alpha Kappa Lambda," and the fraternity's philosophy is "These Hands Don't Hurt," which pledges not to use one's hands to harm another through sexual assault or domestic violence.

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