By Steve Costello
A scream piercing the darkness on an undeveloped section of my childhood street was my introduction to the topic of rape and domestic violence.
I was eight or nine years old, and my initial reaction was to recoil in fear as a second and third shriek cut through the night. My father’s reaction was to bolt out the front door and confront the situation, returning a few minutes later with a visibly shaken young woman who had been accosted by a stranger just down the hill. The would-be rapist ran away when confronted.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, the fundraiser and awareness-raiser to benefit the Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter (RCWN), is the symbolic equivalent of my father’s actions that night more than 40 years ago. He didn’t sit idly by when sexual violence appeared nearly on his doorstep, nor can we disregard the fact that sexual and domestic violence happens regularly in our communities, most often in the shadows.
Through Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, men and women, boys and girls will stand together and declare that violence, intimidation and control of our friends and neighbors won’t be tolerated.
Regina Kohlhepp and Emme O’Rourke aren’t waiting for anyone to lead the way–they’re helping put light onto those shadows. The cross-generational organizers of Walk a Mile in Her Shoes Rutland are passionate about their community, its people, and making a difference.
They have started a conversation that will expose the problem to the harsh light of day, one of the few ways to take away the power of those who prey on others, while raising funds for RCWN. The money raised will help fund a youth advocate and improved community education on domestic violence issues right here in Rutland County.
According to www.thehotline.org, nearly 36 percent of women and 28 percent of men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Rutland County is far from immune; the RCWN shelter is never empty, providing refuge to people of all walks of life, young and old, people starting over after sometimes years of physical and psychological abuse.
The RCWN’s focus is on empowerment, giving people the strength and the tools to leave abusive relationships and begin to plan new futures. Walk a Mile is about the same thing–empowering the greater Rutland community to confront the issue and declare our commitment to overcome it.
As recently reported, dozens of businesses, organizations and individuals have pledged and contributed more than $50,000 to sponsor this event–but there’s more to do. Now we need to stand together as a community and take steps, figuratively as well as literally, to understand the issue and challenges, and work together to overcome them.
Please join Terry Jaye, Mayor Louras, dozens of other community leaders and me on Oct. 18, and “walk a mile in her shoes.” Together we’ll take important steps toward exposing violence and giving local residents the strength and information necessary to begin a new life free of it.
Steve Costello is a vice president at Green Mountain Power, which with WJJR and RCWN, is presenting Walk a Mile in Her Shoes in downtown Rutland.