Story by Lawson Martin. Photos by UNT Dallas.
The University of North Texas at Dallas recently held a powerful event to raise awareness and take a stand against sexualized violence, highlighting the global initiative to combat rape, sexual assault, and gender violence.
This is the second year the event, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, has taken place at The University of North Texas at Dallas.
The event has been happening worldwide since 2001, with various walks happening in communities throughout our country. Since it was created, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes has brought together men, women, and families to raise awareness about the cause and effects of sexualized violence by using a symbolic act of men walking a mile in women’s high-heeled shoes to challenge gender stereotypes and foster understanding.
Many communities choose to host the walk in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Teresa Espino, director of the Counseling and Wellness Center at UNT Dallas, worked with other colleagues at the university to bring Walk a Mile in Her Shoes to UNT Dallas.
“My first experience as a counselor was working with survivors of domestic violence,” Teresa says. “I worked at two different shelters, one in Tarrant County and one in Dallas County, and so I’ve had some direct connections and relationships with survivors.”
Teresa says she is passionate about helping survivors and spreading awareness about domestic violence.
“I understand that a lot of times there’s a lot of reasons why women don’t come forward and talk about their experiences with sexualized violence, domestic violence, or intimate partner violence,” Teresa says. “Looking at the ages and demographics of these ladies, you could see there’s no discrimination when it comes to this topic.”
Teresa has worked with women from all socioeconomic backgrounds who are all different races, ethnicities, and ages.
According to the Texas Council on Family Violence, in 2022, 216 Texans, including 179 women, 37 men, and six LGBTQ+ individuals, fell victim to an intimate partner or stalking homicide. These people ranged in age from 13 to 89.
This data highlights why events like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes are so important in bringing awareness to sexualized violence, not just in the state of Texas but throughout our local communities.
UNT Dallas’s second annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event was held on campus on October 11. Men donned red high-heeled shoes and walked on a route designed to pass by all three major campus buildings for maximum visibility and engagement with those walking past. This experience aims to provide insight into victims’ challenges, and participants were encouraged to be mindful of this as they walked.
An informational session about domestic violence followed their walk, where three community partners were invited to share their resources, including The Family Place, Genesis Women’s Shelter, and Hope’s Door New Beginning Center.
Teresa says the walk can be physically challenging but serves as an important educational and empathy-building experience.
One of Teresa’s favorite memories from the walk was when UNT Dallas President Robert Mong participated.
“He was the first person out there both years to put on his pair of heels and do the entire walk,” Teresa says. “And while other people walking with him took off their heels and maybe finished up the walk barefoot, or maybe they didn’t walk in heels, he was very adamant about this important topic.”
Another memorable moment for Teresa was when a student shared a personal story about a family member’s experience with domestic violence at the walk.
“Having him be a voice in this effort was very encouraging,” Teresa says.
Aside from the walk, Teresa and her colleagues at the UNT Dallas Counseling and Wellness Center are working around the clock to ensure students and faculty members have the best resources available to support survivors of domestic violence and those dealing with sexualized violence. She and other staff members are trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, which she says is “one of the most effective, evidence-based approaches to working with individuals who have experienced trauma.”
According to the American Psychological Association, in EMDR therapy, individuals will talk through their trauma while moving their eyes back and forth. Experts say this type of therapy makes the memory less strong and emotional.
“We know that when anyone survives any kind of trauma, it severely impacts functioning – physically, emotionally, and mentally,” Teresa says. “So we’re very intentional about using EMDR, specifically with individuals who have experienced trauma from intimate partner violence and sexual assault to navigate the healing process.”
Teresa says EMDR therapy helps individuals reduce the long-term effects of their trauma, including hypervigilance, paranoia, and sleeplessness.
With Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and their year long efforts, individuals at the UNT Dallas Counseling and Wellness Center will continue spreading awareness and offering resources about sexualized violence. According to Teresa, UNT Dallas’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes walk received a lot more participation this year, and she hopes the walk can continue to grow in the future.
“We’re a fairly young campus, and my goal here is to establish this as a tradition that happens every year, that people look forward to as a result of this,” Teresa says, adding that the walk’s impact could save someone’s life.