Despite unseasonably warm temperatures for early October, numerous individuals ventured to the Dalton State College campus on Wednesday to "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" and raise awareness of the societal scourge that is domestic violence.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and proceeds from registrations for the walk provide services that help those impacted by domestic violence. The walk is organized by the Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center, which provides shelter and support to victims of domestic violence, as well as advocacy for victims, in Whitfield, Murray and Gordon counties.
This walk was formerly conducted downtown, but Natalie Johnson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Dalton State College and a member of the crisis center's board, suggested moving it on campus, where it's been since 2015. Students in DSC's criminal justice fraternity, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, for which Johnson is an adviser, assist with the walk in various capacities, including registering participants and walking themselves.
Students in the criminal justice program "have to be educated" on domestic violence, especially because "so many people are uneducated" regarding the subject, and "there's no better place to educate than on a college campus," said Johnson, who has a doctorate in sociology, including specializing in the topic of family violence. "This is my passion, and if I could educate the world on this, I would."
Pat Jennings, president of the crisis center board, shares Johnson's passion, and she has a tragic personal connection to family violence, as one of her relatives was killed in a domestic violence crime.
"I have a passion for this because of her," Jennings said. "People think they can work it out, that domestic violence will get better, but it never gets better, it just gets worse."
Prior to the start of Wednesday's walk, there was a moment of silence for victims of domestic violence.
In 2018, the crisis center cared for more than 1,000 new victims of family violence, said Katora Printup, the crisis center's executive director. "There is help, always, and you don't have to stay at a shelter to receive our services."
The crisis center, which has served northwest Georgia for decades, is a free, safe and confidential resource for domestic violence victims, Printup said. The crisis center can be reached at its 24-hour crisis hotline, 706-278-5586, and more information is available online at nwgafcc.com.
Johnson asks all students in her family violence course to volunteer at the crisis center, and many find it rewarding, she said. Alex Martin, a Dalton State graduate who was recently accepted into the U.S. Secret Service, actually continued volunteering at the crisis center after she was done with the class and throughout graduate school, accumulating hundreds of service hours at the crisis center.
Through volunteer efforts at the crisis center — and this annual walk — students discover that family violence "is incredibly common," Johnson said. "It happens in every community and affects every type of socioeconomic status."
Men are also welcomed by the crisis center, not just women and children, Johnson said. "Men can be — and are — victims of domestic violence, too."
Roughly one in four women and nearly one in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of intimate partner violence-related impact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Additionally, more than 43 million women and 38 million men have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner.
Indeed, intimate partner violence isn't merely physical; it can also be psychological, a "more subtle," yet no less deleterious, form of violence, said Colten McDaniel, a Dalton State graduate who studied criminal justice under Johnson and is now a member of the Dalton Police Department. McDaniel, who spoke to the crowd prior to the start of the walk, appreciated seeing so many attendees Wednesday driven not only by passion for the cause, but also by "compassion for others."
McDaniel understands "the difference police officers can make by stepping in and stopping what is likely a vicious cycle of violence," but victims have several options, he said. The crisis center, for example, "is a valuable resource that cannot be replaced."
The crisis center already has a presence in local high schools, but this event on a college campus provides exposure to yet another age group, and Printup was encouraged by the turnout, she said. Everyone in attendance Wednesday "is stepping out against domestic violence."
Males were encouraged to wear high heels for Wednesday's walk, and several did, in order to see the problem from a woman's perspective, and to attract attention to the event, Johnson said. "It definitely grabs your attention."
Diego Alvarado and Eduardo Meraz, both Dalton State students, sported heels for the walk.
"I like to go all-in," explained Alvarado, who also wore heels for the 2018 edition of the walk.
"These shoes spoke to me," Meraz said with a chuckle. "I knew these were the ones."
With myriad walkers and volunteers in costumes, and several men sporting heels, there's a level of jocularity to this event — by design — but everyone also understands the gravity of domestic violence, Printup said. "We want this to be fun, but also for people to take the issue seriously."
Wednesday's events certainly made an impression on Alvarado.
Simply walking in heels "gets me thinking about how unfair it is that we hold women to this standard," Alvarado said. "I feel uncomfortable."