By Taylor Nappi
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Men and women came out to the conference center at Sheppard Pratt in Towson on Saturday morning to raise awareness about sexual and domestic violence against women.
The rally was also designed to raise money for the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) and domestic violence programs at GBMC Hospital.
“Today we have a great fundraiser to not only bring money for both of these wonderful programs here at GBMC but it’s also a great way to bring awareness about the tragedies of the sexual violence against women to the community,” said John Chessare, the president of GBMC.
Walk A Mile in Her Shoes is a national organization and walk that takes place all over the U.S. All proceeds from the walk go towards GBMC’s SAFE and domestic violence programs, which provide victims of sexual and domestic violence with exams, fresh clothes, food and support.
“Our programs are the only one of their kind in Baltimore County,” said Morgan Cook, associate director of special events at GBMC. “These issues happen everywhere so it is important that we have these resources available and that people know these programs exist and are here to help.”
The hospital has 14 nurses and examiners and five victim advocates that are available at all times to help victims with issues like domestic violence, rape, child abuse, human trafficking and others, Cook said.
The victims in these programs are never billed so GBMC relies heavily on events such as Saturday’s walk to raise money and keep the program running smoothly, said Laura Clary, clinical program manager for the SAFE program.
Fred Chan, a doctor at GBMC, said studies have shown that sexual violence is the least reported crime and that it impacts people everywhere of any race, age and gender.
“We want to change some of the misconception and stigma around sexual violence,” Chan said. “A lot of people won’t report what happened to them out of fear because a lot of victims were assaulted by someone they knew.”
The SAFE and domestic violence programs partner with law enforcement, child protective services, sexual assault counselors and they try to educate the community about sexual and domestic violence as much as they can, Chan said.
“At the states attorney’s office we work very closely with the SAFE and domestic violence programs and those two groups are really important in successfully going forward with our prosecution cases,” said Baltimore County States Attorney Scott Shellenberger said.
Participants met up at the conference center for food, games, pictures and short speeches from Chan, Chessare and Clary. At 9:30 a.m. the one-mile walk began as numerous participants wore red high heels or red converse shoes.
Participants weren’t afraid to voice their support while at the walk.
“This cause was my life and in order to help others experiencing the same thing you have to come out and be that voice that they don’t have yet,” said Latonya Henry, a walk participant from Baltimore city.
“I’m here to get more aware about these issues,” said Edwin Villamater, a walk participant from Towson. “I really didn’t know that this was such a prevalent problem and I also have a 16-year-old daughter so this is important.”
The walk was first organized in Baltimore after a patient at GBMC recommended it, Cook said.
“We have gotten a lot of good responses from the walk,” Cook said. “We get calls from people telling their stories and how they wished they knew about the programs at GBMC before.”
In its second year, the walk had over 300 participants and raised over $31,000.