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High-heeled for a cause: Hopeline event raises awareness of domestic violence

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Celebrity participants in the "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" fundraiser for Albemarle Hopeline begin their lap around the track at Roebuck Stadium at Elizabeth City State University on Saturday.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Men and women alike donned their best heels and wedges for “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” on Saturday, an event where the community stepped up for Albemarle Hopeline and against domestic violence.

In the event’s second year, leaders in education, law enforcement, health care and more joined the public to walk laps around the track at Roebuck Stadium at Elizabeth City State University. The event supports Albemarle Hopeline, a six-county nonprofit that provides counseling, shelter and other services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and also coincides with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The event encouraged men to wear women's shoes — an amusing but important gesture of solidarity to the victims of domestic violence.

“As the saying goes, you can't really understand another person's experience until you've walked a mile in their shoes,” Hopeline Executive Director Katherine Rogers told the crowd. The event is not only a fundraiser for Hopeline, but is meant to raise awareness still greatly needed about domestic abuse and sexualized violence, she explained.

“One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their life,” Rogers said, statistics reflected in the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

Abusive relationships and sexual assaults are a problem known all to well to local law enforcement and court officials, including Saturday's master of ceremonies, Superior Court Judge J.C. Cole. He shared with the crowd that he recently concluded a rape trial in Pitt County, reporting the jury returned a not-guilty verdict. “I'm not sure I agree with it,” he said.

Turning to lighter matters, he also introduced the many “celebrity walkers” who walked the first laps of the event. Among them were College of the Albemarle President Robert Wynegar, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools Superintendent Larry Cartner, Currituck County Schools Superintendent Mark Stefanik, Pasquotank Sheriff Randy Cartwright, Elizabeth City Police Chief Eddie Buffaloe, Sentara Albemarle Medical Center President Coleen Santa Ana, and U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Randy Meador.

“On your mark, get set, do the best you can,” Cole told the walkers as they hobbled down the track.

Suffering most for the cause Saturday may have been Pastor Antonio Williams, of Palmyra Missionary Baptist Church, who wore high-heeled, knee-high snake-skin boots. They killed his feet and calves, he said after struggling to complete a single lap around the track. He won “prettiest shoe” for his efforts.

Williams said his church is determined to acknowledge and help domestic violence victims.

“The biggest thing is to show we as a church will not sweep any kind of domestic violence under the rug,” he said.

Santina Proctor is also intimately familiar with domestic violence. During the walk, she explained she lost her mother to domestic violence, and, in her honor, founded “It's Not Your Fault 91.” The Chesapeake-based organization provides emergency shelter to women trying to escape abusive relationships, she said.

She also noted abuse victims face the most danger when they try to leave their abusers.

Another walker, U.S. Coast Guardswoman Chelsea Brunoehler, recounted she served in the Navy as a “SAPR,” or victim's advocate under the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. She counseled victims without forcing them to formally act against their accusers, which can be a public and painful process.

She also said she's found it's not effective to simply tell people they're in abusive relationships. Allow people to talk about how their abusers make them feel, and they'll often reach that conclusion themselves, she explained.

Joined by her husband, Matt, as well as her daughter and mother, Brunoehler praised Hopeline's event and the many men there who took a stand against domestic violence.

“It's very important to have men here saying, 'this is wrong,'” she said.

Also sharing insights on abusive relationships, Hopeline counselor Katie Dunavant said abusive partners start as “incredibly charming,” but, over time, disrespect boundaries and try to control their partners. Abuse victims may begin to seem isolated from friends, show changes in behavior such as irritability, and absence or diminished ability in daily activities, she explained.

With the event hosted at ECSU, university faculty and students made sure they were represented as well. Professor Jennifer Brown estimated ECSU brought more than 40 people to the walk, including students on the women's softball and basketball teams, as well as football players.

“Our guys know that everyone deserves respect,” said Football Coach Anthony Jones.

In interviews Friday and Saturday, Rogers and Prevention Educator Meredith Gragg estimated the event raised about $5,000, and, just as importantly, awareness about relationship abuse.

For more information on Hopeline, go to albemarlehopeline.org; its crisis hotline is 252-338-3011.

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