COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Tonight hundreds of high heels will hit the pavement in Columbia's Vista, but don't expect to see ladies in those shoes.
For the fourth year in a row, men from all over the midlands will "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" for sexual assault and abuse awareness.
"We ask that men come out in high heels, or women's flats or wedges and walk this mile through the Vista, so that not only do they start talking about sexual assault, but also people who see them will stop and want to know what's going on," said Ginny Waller, the Executive Director of the Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands (STSM).
STSM hosts the walk and Waller says women and children are also encouraged to come out to the event. Several community leaders are expected to slip on some high heels for the cause.
"My wife picked them out for me," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott of his pink stilettos. Lott says he's worn the same pair for the event for the last three years.
"I'll tell you it's tough, I don't see how y'all walk in these high heels." But Lott adds he'll gladly try and stand alongside other men in heels to help bring awareness to sexual assault and abuse in the midlands.
"It's terrible that we've got crimes like this in our community," said Lott. "We need to come together as a community… so to do something like that and to walk in those high heels, I think is a very small thing compared to what these women go through."
STSM Executive Director Ginny Waller says the event has grown from 75 walkers in its first year to an anticipated 1,000 walkers this year. "A lot of the time this draws people who otherwise would not have anything to do with sexual violence issues," said Waller. "So we're able to capture an audience that we may not otherwise be in front of."
While the heels are the highlight, Waller says their message is the mission. "Not only do [the walkers] start talking about sexual assault, but also people who see them [in the Vista] will stop and want to know what's going on," she added.
STSM provides services to survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and Waller says in the past five years alone, they've seen a significant increase in the number of primary survivors who've come to the center for help. "We've had more than a 60 percent increase in primary survivors- that's individuals directly assaulted," said Waller. "That is a huge increase."
Waller says it could mean that more victims are coming forward, but she says it also means there's still more work to be done. For the men who are walking tonight, that starts one step at a time. "My toes hurt, my ankles hurt, but I'll endure that pain to go out and demonstrate that we're supporting these ladies," said Sheriff Lott.
Lott will join Attorney General Alan Wilson, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, Lexington County Sheriff James Metts and several other dignitaries for tonight's event.
The walk starts at 6pm in front of the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. Registration is $20 in advance and $30 at the event.