DADE CITY — Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian E. Corley never thought he could fit his size 11 feet into women's shoes — but that's exactly what he'll do Saturday when he and dozens of other men slip into heels and attempt to march around the Dade City Courthouse.
Despite the likely blisters and possible twisted ankles, the men are braving the platform soles for a special and important cause: raising awareness of domestic violence.
"It's a fun way to talk about something serious," says Christina Bates, the social change community organizer for Sunrise of Pasco, a local domestic violence and sexual assault center.
The "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" march to stop domestic violence will focus on awareness as well as support — especially from men. Male participants will not only wear high heels but also carry signs and banners displaying domestic violence statistics.
"The goal of the march is to show that we can all come together as a community to show that domestic violence is not acceptable, now or in the future," says Bates, who says that at least 90 percent of domestic violence victims are women.
Bates says many men want to show their opposition to domestic violence, but don't know how to get involved, which is one reason why the march will focus on men's support.
Corley wanted to get involved to set an example for his 8-year-old daughter, Sarah.
"What a great way to get involved, to give something back, and to instill in my daughter the idea that domestic violence is never appropriate," Corley says.
Corley is son of a police officer. His father often responded to domestic violence calls and Corley heard the stories of how dangerous and volatile they were.
"I gained more awareness from my father's stories," Corley says.
Sheila Brooks of Zephyrhills, the mother of three girls and a Winn-Dixie employee, will be participating in the march as a tribute to somebody close to her: her mother, who died in 1982 when a domestic dispute turned deadly.
"A lot of victims lose their lives every day, and nobody knows about it," Brooks says. "I think there needs to be more awareness."
"This is where the community comes in," she says. "It takes the whole community, not just women, not just social workers, to make change. Everyone is affected by domestic violence. Everyone can benefit from living in a community that's safe."
Community involvement is Bates' specialty at Sunrise of Pasco, an organization that has been serving the county for over 20 years. Sunrise offers services ranging from community and children's programs — which Bates says are key to domestic violence prevention — to a women's and children's emergency shelter.
"The shelter is important because safety is our biggest concern. We need to have shelters, we need to have space for women and children to know that they're going to be safe," Bates says. "A lot of times, they don't have support. This is the only thing they have."
Shelter advocate Joan Arena, who has been with Sunrise of Pasco for a year, is there to offer the women support and encouragement.
"When the girls come to the shelter, they're a wreck," she says. "When they leave, they're completely different. It's a transformation."
Safe place to get help
The shelter is designed to feel like an ordinary home, with a large kitchen, two family rooms and cozy bedrooms decorated with bright colors.
On a recent visit to the shelter, happy children played at the feet of their mothers in one family room, while in the other, a shelter resident chatted with a domestic violence victims' advocate.
The kitchen is spacious and open to shelter residents around the clock, and Sunrise stocks the large pantry with various necessities, such as canned goods and baby food — and boxes of cake mix.
"We do a lot of baking around here," says Arena, adding that the women often cook meals together.
Another shelter employee, Carolyn McKay, says she was drawn to Sunrise:
"I love to see people do good and make it. And everybody needs somebody," says McKay, whose responsibilities include assisting with housing and helping find employment.
"I help them regroup and get their life back together," she says.
Arena and McKay agree that there's not enough public awareness about domestic violence — or about women's shelters such as the one at Sunrise.
"There needs to be more awareness so women in that situation know that they can get out," Arena says.
Sheila Brooks often wonders if things would have been different had her mother reached out for help.
"People need to know they're not alone. My mother's voice was silenced forever, so I have to be her voice now."