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Men don heels to join fight against sexual violence

When a group of brawny men in football jerseys stick their size 13 feet into a pair of high-heeled shoes, then walk down Hertel Avenue, there must – one might assume – be a love story somehow involved.

That, in fact, was the case Sunday.

The love story is between Iris and Kent Yarger of Buffalo.

The brawny men are the Dragons, members of a semi-professional football team the Yargers own that is based in Riverside.

The Dragons were among the 280 men and women who participated Sunday in a one-mile walk that organizers describe as a lighthearted event that gets people to address a serious topic. “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” drew attention to the issue of sexual violence against women and brought more men into the discussion, as the organizers had hoped it would.

Erie County has the fifth-highest number of reported rapes in the state, according to Robyn Wiktorski-Reynolds, advocate program coordinator for Crisis Services, which sponsored Sunday’s local event along with the University at Buffalo. Also, she said, as youths, boys are as likely as girls to be victims of sexual assault.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is an international event that has become increasingly popular during the nine years it has been held in Buffalo, Wiktorski-Reynolds said.

Among those gathering Sunday at the Crisis Services building on Main Street, then walking down Hertel Avenue and back, were victims of sexual abuse as well as women helping other women – and men – overcome the scars of domestic and sexual violence. Also in the group were dozens of men either supporting the work of Crisis Services, supporting a particular woman, or making a statement against sexual violence. Many of the men showed their support by going along with the theme of the day, and walking a mile in women’s high-heeled shoes.

Walkers included a group from the Beard and Beer, a social club of bearded men that supports local bars and breweries as well as social causes such as sexual violence awareness.

“We want to support the cause,” said Matthew Quirey, 33, who was standing with four other Beard and Beer members, all of them wearing high-heels.

“We have friends who work at Crisis Services,” added Jeffrey Cox, 25, another Beard and Beer club member, who said the group went to six stores Saturday night to find high heels in sizes 12 to 14 for Sunday’s event. “A couple of DSW, Torrid, Payless.”

Standing just a few feet away was Mike Coe, 42, wearing a Dragons football jersey. Coe is an offensive lineman for the football team. He brought his wife, children and his daughter’s boyfriend to Sunday’s event to help bring awareness to the issue of sexual violence, he said.

“The owners of the Dragons believe in this, and asked us and we volunteered,” said Coe, who acknowledged his size 11 feet – in a size 13 women’s heels – were feeling a little sore even before the walk started.

Kent Yarger said the organizers of the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event had reached out to his wife, Iris, to ask if the Dragons wanted to support the walk. Even before his wife had finished researching the event, Yarger told her he wanted to participate.

“I told her I know it meant a lot to her and would do it,” he said.

“I was once in an abusive relationship,” Iris Yarger explained.

“They are doing it because they know it means a lot to me,” she said of the Dragons at Sunday’s walk.

Kent Yarger had his heels in a bag when talking prior to the walk, but pulled his black pumps out and put them on just prior to the walk starting at 1 p.m.

By 2 p.m., with the one-mile walk over, and participants back at the Crisis Services building parking lot on Main Street, Yarger was leaning on his wife. His feet were so sore from the high heels that his toes were bleeding.

As she finished putting Band-Aids on her husband’s toes, Iris Yarger said the walk was good, but tough on her husband’s feet. During the final leg of the walk, she said: “He kept telling me: ‘I love you. I love you.’ ”

Coe also had sore feet. So did Chase Boss, 15, of Cheektowaga, who had joined the high-heeled walk at Coe’s request. Boss is friends with Coe’s 14-year-old daughter, Madison.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Chase said, when asked why he joined the walk.