RISE ends SLO Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event — it didn’t send the right message

RISE is ending its annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event after 16 years, the nonprofit organization announced Thursday.

The event, which took place every April in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, encouraged participants to wear high heels and walk a mile in solidarity with those who have experienced gender-based violence.

RISE leaders said in a release that they decided to retire the national event based on “extensive discussion, market research and feedback from RISE staff, board members and community supporters alike” as well as declining revenue and attendance.

“RISE’s goal is to create an inclusive, empowering event that speaks to the experiences of all survivors, and we weren’t meeting that goal with Walk a Mile,” Jennifer Adams, RISE’s executive director, said in the release. “We hope to carry forward the progress, momentum and support established by Walk a Mile, while continuing to empower allies, raise awareness and bring together SLO County to support survivors.”

Sophie Marsh, RISE’s outreach and events manager, told The Tribune in a phone interview that over the years, the organization had received feedback and pushback over some of the event’s messaging.

“More specifically, ideas that are non-inclusive to the LGBT community because of the way the event is framed. It’s focusing on female survivors to the detriment of less-visible groups,” Marsh said. She added that the event “enforces the gender binary and patriarchal systems of power.”

Marsh said RISE wants to be more inclusive of all people experiencing sexual assault and domestic violence.

“We want to make sure that they feel welcome and included in all of our services,” Marsh said.

The event’s peak was in 2017, with about 600 people showing up to Walk a Mile in Her Shoes marches in Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande and Cuesta College.

However, attendance had been steadily declining before 2017, and in 2018, both revenue and attendance declined by about 48 percent, Marsh said.

This year for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, RISE will host RISE Up & Rock, a family-friendly benefit concert at SLO Brew Rock on April 27, according to the release.

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.