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Men walk tall in heels to raise awareness about domestic and sexual violence

Whether stomping about clumsily in size 15, 3-inch heels or soft-pedaling it in a comfortable pair of women’s loafers Sunday, the scores of local men parading down Hertel Avenue were all stepping out for a good cause.

In addition to poking fun at their own masculine images, their main aim in Crisis Services’ 10th annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event was to be proud foot soldiers promoting awareness of domestic and sexual violence against women – and men.

To that end, male participants such as Joe Nagro, of Buffalo, and Christopher Streb, of the Town of Tonawanda, said they couldn’t think of a better reason to be walking tall in women’s footwear.

“I think everyone wins today by being aware of what it’s like to go walking in women’s shoes for a day,” Nagro said of the event, which he attended with his girlfriend, Missy Klaus, a Crisis Services worker.

“I did this last year and it’s usually a good experience, a great way to spread the word about a good cause. My girlfriend here, Missy, turned me on to this. So I plan to come back every year after this.”

Streb, a veteran of three previous high-heel walks, said he has been a fervent supporter of Crisis Services’ aims since he was a student at the University at Buffalo.

“When I was in college, I used to be part of safety walks, so if people needed a walk to their cars late at night, I would be there to offer that service. When I graduated from college, my first job was actually here at Crisis Services, and I helped run a couple (of walks) in the beginning,” Streb said.

Robyn Wiktorski-Reynolds, director of the advocate program at Crisis Services, said there are more than 8,000 victims of domestic violence and sexual assault locally every year. While the vast majority are women, many are men. So it is important that men join women in becoming active in the cause.

“We want to make sure that while this event is about men in heels – which is kind of tongue-in-cheek – we know that there are also male survivors. About 10 percent of our population of sexual assault survivors are men. We know that, and we have men as volunteers, who are actively engaged in our community. So it is important that they’re represented as preventers, as well as survivors,” she said.

As she spoke, hundreds of men and women lined up under a white pole tent in the parking lot of Crisis Services, 2969 Main St., to sign up for the mile walk. The service has a 24-hour hotline: 834-3131.

While raising public awareness about such a serious issue, organizers of the walk make no bones about injecting levity into the event. In addition to the walk, organizers set up a high-heel obstacle course challenge and a hilarious runway walk for the guys in heels to teeter through.

Novice participant Michael Puskas, of Kenmore, in a relatively comfortable pair of women’s wedges, decided to sit that one out. “Had I known there was a runway contest, I would have prepared in advance,” he said.

State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy complemented his business suit with a pair of black 4-inch pumps.

“This is the first time I’ve participated in wearing the heels,” he said. “but it comes at a critical time when we need to continue to get the message out there of protecting our community from the violence that’s being perpetrated against women, domestically and otherwise.”