San Benito County walks a mile in her shoes

Men wearing red stilettos say no to sexual assault and domestic violence.
Patrick and Amalia Ellis.
San Benito Haybalers.
Hollister Firefighters Steve Cabral and Stephan Hanson.
Sheriff Darren Thompson.
Grilling & Chillin Alehouse owner Chuck Frowein.
Adrienne Mongi (center) of Heritage Bank and other volunteers help walkers find the right size shoes.

Over 165 walkers, mostly men wearing red stiletto heels, participated in the April 13 Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event in downtown Hollister. Taken from the idea that you cannot understand another person until you have experienced what they have, this nationwide movement invites men to literally walk a mile in women’s shoes.

The movement was founded to raise men’s awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence against women. Emcee Victor Gomez, also president of Pinnacle Strategy, was there with his three daughters. He said he got involved in part because his sister, Elizabeth Gomez, was murdered in Hollister by her boyfriend 12 years ago, and in part to show his daughters that they deserve to be treated with respect.

“It means a lot to me to bring my daughters,” Gomez said. “As men we need to lead by example. I can’t expect anything more for my daughters to look at than to see how I treat my wife, how I treat her in public, how I treat her in private—my daughters are watching.” He said he believes his example will help them when it comes to choosing their own domestic partners.

The Saturday event was coordinated by Community Solutions and Emmaus House. Donors for the event included Rabobank, Heritage Bank of Commerce, Teknova, JRG Attorneys at Law, Brent Redmond Transportation Inc., and Bertao Real Estate Group. The Hollister Rotary Club supplied water and hot dogs to those who walked.

All proceeds went to Emmaus House, a facility in Hollister housing women and children who have experienced domestic violence. Since opening in 2006, Emmaus House has given shelter to 652 women and 758 children.

Patrice Kuerschner, executive director at Emmaus House, said the event was important because there is a need in the community for Emmaus House, and that without it these women and children would have nowhere to go.

Erica Elliott, a sexual assault and prevention program manager at Community Solutions, agreed, saying that the community needs to know that sexual and domestic violence is everywhere, in all neighbourhoods, all demographics and in all walks of life.

Amalia Ellis, who attended the event with her husband Patrick, walked in support of her friend Astraia Muir of Eureka.

“She was murdered 10 months ago,” Ellis said, fighting back tears. “She and I went to high school together in Santa Cruz so we are here to support the cause.” Patrick, who works for Chamberlain’s Children Center, said that children who go through the foster system are often exposed to violence.

Other walkers shared their personal stories. Emmaus House Board Chair Johny Van Dyke told part of his story to attendees. As a four year old, Van Dyke said he walked into his mother’s room to find her on her knees with a gun pointed at her face. That was all he was able to say at the time, as he became too emotional to continue. He later told BenitoLink that his mother, Sandra Martz, and his stepfather had a turbulent relationship, and when under the influence of drugs and alcohol he became violent. On the night in question, Van Dyke said his mother and then his stepfather later tried to comfort him.

Van Dyke said both he and his brother struggled with anger over the years and sought therapy to deal with the effects of the abuse. At first he blamed himself for not stopping it, but said now knows he was not to blame.

“Though how I see it has changed, it is still there,” Van Dyke said.

Other walkers did not have a personal story to share, but still came out to show support. Grillin & Chillin Alehouse owner Chuck Frowein had never worn heels before, but said it was worth it.

“I do believe in taking care of the community, we do support Emmaus House and this is a way for us to do it,” Frowein said.

The San Benito High School football team was also at the event, and some players ran part of the route in their heels.

Gomez provided local statistics from the San Benito County Community Assessment on Sexual Violence:

  • According to a recent assessment of San Benito County by Community Solutions, two out of three (67%) community members have witnessed domestic violence and nearly one in two (46%) know someone impacted by sexual assault.
  • Domestic violence represents the single most frequent reason for emergency police calls, with more than 350 per year. According to the California Women’s Well-Being Index, the average number of annual sexual assaults in San Benito County in 2014 was 52.7 per 100,000 people. California’s rate was 24.4 per 100,000 in 2014, according to the California Attorney General, putting San Benito County at more than double the state average. There were 16 rapes in Hollister in 2014, according to the Hollister Police Department. According to the Status of Women in San Benito County report, 27% of women surveyed in 2013 had been victims of domestic violence.
  • The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health publishes, which presents data by grade level on youth who have been hit or intentionally hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year and reported it to law enforcement. Emotional abuse is not reported. In its most recent report (2011-2013), the percentage of San Benito County high school youth who have experience dating violence is 4.2% of ninth graders (compared to 5% in California), 6.9% of 11th graders (compared to 5.9% in California), and 12.7% in non-traditional schools. reports this is likely an underestimate as many victims do not report violence because of fear, because they think others will not believe them, or because they believe the police cannot help.

“This is not what we want San Benito County to reflect,” Gomez said. “We as a community need to do better. We need to ensure we raise voices of those impacted and ensure we find solutions to end sexual violence in our community.”

The full assessment can be found here and is attached to this article. For more information about domestic violence and sexual assault issues, check out the PDF at the bottom of this article.



Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.