That was the sound of high heels on the sidewalk Wednesday afternoon.
But the clacking sounds weren’t generated by women.
Oh no, the sounds were generated by men – men in suits; men in ties; men in uniform.
Despite the rain, nearly 20 male community figures – from Seaside Police Chief Bob Gross to Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin – turned out to walk around the Clatsop County Courthouse, raising awareness for the startling number of victims of sexual assault.
“An estimated one out of six adult women in Oregon has been the victim of forcible rape at somet ime in her life,” Astoria City Councilor Karen Mellin read during a proclamation declaring April Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“Sexual assault affects Oregonians everyday, whether it’s a survivor, family member, friend, partner, neighbor, employer, co-worker.”
Additionally, every two minutes in the United States, a person is sexually assaulted.
Mellin was the former director of the Women’s Resource Center, the organization that hosted the event.
She added as part of the city’s proclamation that in the last year, the center responded to more than 20 reported sexual assaults with local law enforcement.
“A Walk in My S hoes” is Clatsop County’s first attempt at a spin-off of the international campaign, “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.”
The event hosts men in women’s shoes who march to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence.
“It is our hope that this walk will help others better understand the hard road that a sexual assault survivor must walk,” the poster read for the event.
Gross chose to go with a lovely pair of gold sparkly ballet flats.
Warrenton Police Chief Matt Workman strutted in black woven wedges with pink bows fastened to each shoe.
Astoria Deputy Chief Brad Johnston selected an elegant pair of leather dress shoes.
And Bergin pranced in a pair of sassy silver sandals.
Each walker carried a sign with a survivor’s name printed on the front – a survivor they had met at the sheriff’s office during a workshop prior to the walk.
“It was a very interesting experience,” Bergin said. “But there were some very touching stories shared prior to this walk. And we were very fortunate to hear the stories of, not victims, but survivors of sexual assault. That was really cool. And we shared stories from law enforcement’s perspective.”
Bergin shared a story about a case he worked on several years ago involving a little girl, which ended up being the subject of an article he wrote for the Oregon State Sheriff’s magazine. She was living in a drug house, he explained, and he felt some abuse must have been going on there.
“I told that story of how you consistently or constantly are being subjected to these types of stories over and over and over, because that’s what we do everyday,” he said. “So we see it from a different point of view.”
Men can also be victims of sexual assault, Bergin pointed out. One in 10 victims are male, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).
These are strong people, Bergin said of the victims who shared their stories.
“Sexual violence is preventable,” Mellin read during her proclamation. “It’s important to encourage healthy, nonviolent interaction in relationships and undo social norms that allow and promote sexual violence.”
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis appeared (in men’s shoes) to speak to the group of men prepared to walk. He said he admired the law enforcement men who had chosen to participate in the event.
“Sexual assault unfortunately is more common than we would like to admit,” he said. “I want to bring it home in a way that really concerns me.”
He then pointed to a case that is preparing to go to court on appeal, but has somehow gained support of local businesses, he said.
“They have a sign up basically encouraging people to go to a website about a sexual child abuse case,” Marquis said. “The reason that I find that appalling is the indication that we still have a ways to come. People still are not taking sexual abuse and child sex abuse that seriously.”
Although he said he wouldn’t name the case because of the closeness to trial, he referred to the freetom.info banners that appear across town, from the side of The Shipyard to a sign hung near the Astoria Bridge. The website links to a support group for Tom Kelly, a 57-year-old man who was convicted of 12 counts of first-degree sodomy and 12 counts of first-degree sexual abuse on a 10-year-old victim in 2008. Kelly is appealing his conviction.
Sharon Beatteay, the sexual assault specialist with the Women’s Resource Center, thanked all of the marchers who showed up Wednesday afternoon.
“This is so honoring for survivors and victims of sexual assault,” she said. “This is going to give back some of the power that has been taken from them. You have no idea how powerful this is.”
She also thanked the survivors who had the courage to share their stories with the men who walked in their honor.
Bergin said his feet were sore, but the little bit of suffering he did is nothing compared to what survivors of sexual abuse are forced to deal with.
“It was worth the pain,” he said with a smile.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.