While in the Army, Jermaine Hamilton once had to march 12 miles. His feet didn't start hurting until the end.
On Friday, all it took was one step. Of course, bright red stilettos are not as comfortable as combat boots.
Hamilton, 27, was part of the fifth annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event at the University of South Florida. Dozens of men stepped into sling backs, wedges and pumps to raise awareness of domestic and sexual violence against women.
It's a timely message for a school that has had two unrelated rapes in on-campus residence halls during the past three weeks.
"I've got to fight domestic violence," Hamilton said as he hobbled toward the finish line. "I'm fighting, my feet hurt, but I'm fighting,"
Joey Tocci, a 41-year-old chef from Casselberry, donned a pair of red stilettos in front of his young daughter.
Tocci's wife is a USF alumna and works at an advocacy center. As a father and husband, he felt it was his duty to march in heels.
"Men set the tone," he said. "If we're the perpetrators, then we also have to be the solution."
Audrey Mabrey agrees. In 2009, Mabrey's estranged husband attacked her with a hammer, doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. She told the crowd of men Friday that women need their help.
"The key to stopping violence against women is men and youth," she said. "So, please, continue to spread the message."
Carrying signs, the men teetered, stumbled and strutted their way across campus. Students, faculty members and administrators cheered them on.
For Kenneth Johnson, an 18-year-old USF student, it seemed to come naturally. In 3-inch heels, he hopped aboard his skateboard and took off. But behind his smile was pain.
"My feet have never hurt so much in my life," he said.
With the help of his wife, Mark Barnwell, 49, chose his footwear wisely: black suede wedges.
"It's rough, but it's okay if you shuffle," he said as he leaned on his wooden cane.
A Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy, he and his wife guest lecture at USF about domestic violence.
He often preaches the phrase "no means no" and tells students that "nobody has the right to kill for love." Walking in heels helps bring those messages to the public, he said.
For Shannon Fowler, a 20-year-old USF student and survivor of violence, the outpouring of support meant a lot.
"To see all these men come out and say they are not going to do this, that they are going to work toward ending this, is a wonderful thing," she said.
At the end of the mile, despite the extra padding provided by athletic socks, many of the men had blisters for souvenirs.
"I'm bleeding," Tocci said, "for the cause."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.