Osmar Gonzalez changed his sneakers for a pair of bright red high heels and took a first few wobbly steps.
It was the beginning of a one mile walk around California State University Northridge (CSUN), where he and dozens of other men trekked around campus in black, white and even pink pumps for “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: A March Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.”
“I decided to take part in this because, unfortunately, domestic violence is part of my culture,” said Gonzalez, who attends California State Dominguez Hills, but came to the Valley to support his girlfriend here and the cause she favors.
“This is nothing compared to what they (women) go through,” he said.
Luis Valladares, 22, a mechanical engineering student at CSUN, also put on high heels, and added a wig and a skirt over his shorts.
“A lot of Latinos are macho men and women are put down. These heels, they hurt to put them on, but you get to feel what [women] feel when they go through their struggle,” Valladares said.
The Oct. 25 march is the signature community event for Strength United, an organization that provides resources for victims of violence. The walk seeks to raise awareness not only to domestic violence, but rape, child abuse and all forms of intimate abuse.
“It’s an epidemic. It’s happening and we don’t want to be silent anymore. As long as we keep secrets, that’s no way to address the real issue,” said Maggie Stoicof, a Strength United spokesperson.
“We’re trying to let people know that it’s okay to come forward and discuss this, and we can help.”
Victims and perpetrators of domestic violence come from all walks of life, ethnicities, and social status.
They can be people you would not suspect would be caught in such a dangerous situation. According to Stoicof, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 6 men are victims of rape. The problem is even worse on college campuses, where 1 in 4 women are victims of attempted or actual sexual assault. And 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience violence from their partner.
Unfortunately, only five percent of campus assaults are reported.
The reasons for the lack of reporting vary. They include fear, shame, or the victim not recognizing the assault as abuse. Victims may have no means of support, have children and economically depend on the abuser. They can be convinced no one is going to believe them.
Last year, Strength United — which has three offices in Northridge, Van Nuys and Santa Clarita — served more than 14,800 clients.
The effects of abusive experiences can be overwhelming and traumatizing. Carmen Serrano knows firsthand. In 2010, the actress who played “Principal Carmen” in the TV series “Breaking Bad” was the victim of a sexual assault.
“I was shattered and afraid,” she told the crowd gathered at CSUN at the start of the march. “I left everything, including my marriage (of 14 years).”
Traumatized, she left Los Angeles and her modeling and acting career, as the assault brought memories of child molestation to the surface, which she had buried for years. She shared that it’s only recently that she’s been able to talk about these devastating experiences openly and regain some normalcy in her life.
She’s now “dating” her ex-husband, whom she divorced after the sexual assault.
“Strength United was one of the organizations that helped me to pick up the pieces of my shattered life,” Serrano said.
Speaking Up For “Maria”
The outcome for victims of domestic violence can sometimes be fatal.
On the night of Aug. 11, Maria Ines Morales was found dead in the 1400 block of Herron Street, in Sylmar. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, she was found in the living room of her house, shot multiple times.
Police also found her 59-year-old husband, Albino Topete Morales, in a bedroom lying on a mattress. He was charged with murder a few days later.
“She was my best friend, my teacher. She died of domestic violence,” said Carmen Chavez, who joined several others to participate on “Team Maria Ines” for this Walk.
Chavez said Maria, a teacher at the San Fernando Early Education Center, was a victim of domestic violence for years but she never talked about it. Like many, she carried on with her day-to-day responsibilities at work helping others, but she never received the help she desperately needed for herself.
Help that may have saved her life.
The message Chavez shared in her friend’s memory was straight forward. “I want men to stop [committing] domestic violence, to be respectful of women and the person who’s suffering to speak up.”
For more information about Strength United or if you need help, call (818) 886-0453 or visit www.strengthunited.org.
Warning Signs You Could be a Victim of Abuse
Below is a list of possible signs of abuse. Some of these are illegal. All of them are wrong. You may be abused if your partner:
•Monitors what you’re doing all the time
•Unfairly accuses you of being unfaithful all the time
•Prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family
•Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school
•Gets very angry during and after drinking alcohol or using drugs
•Controls how you spend your money
•Controls your use of needed medicines
•Decides things for you that you should be allowed to decide (like what to wear or eat)
•Humiliates you in front of others
•Destroys your property or things that you care about
•Threatens to hurt you, the children, or pets
•Hurts you (by hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, punching, slapping, kicking, or biting)
•Uses (or threatens to use) a weapon against you
•Forces you to have sex against your will
•Controls your birth control or insists that you get pregnant
•Blames you for his or her violent outbursts
•Threatens to harm himself or herself when upset with you
•Says things like, “If I can’t have you then no one can.”
If you think someone is abusing you, get help. Abuse can have serious physical and emotional effects. No one has the right to hurt you.