Pink Rollerblades stood heel to toe with puppy slippers and timberland boots – 351 pairs of shoes forming a pathway and each pair representing a victim of sexual assault.
The pathway though downtown’s De La Guerra Plaza was part of a kickoff rally for the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center’s Pathways to Peace campaign. In the last year, the center counseled the victims represented on the pathway. At intervals along the line of shoes, signs stood in coffee cans filled with cement. The signs listed statistics about rape and suggested steps for dealing with and preventing sexual assault.
The center organized the rally because April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, spokeswoman Alena Donovan said.
“The Rape Crisis Center is dedicated to helping women and men,” Donovan said. “This year we’re celebrating the steps each person can take to help eliminate sexual violence.”
Donovan introduced one of the center’s volunteers, sociology graduate student Jessi Quizar, who read a poem by Marge Piercy, titled “Rape Is Violent.”
Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-35th District), who attended the rally, thanked the center for all the work it has done since its establishment in 1974.
“Sexual assault is not a crime of passion – this is violence,” she said. “It impacts women’s choice of where they work, if they want to go to work and who they work with. I want to say to the Rape Crisis Center: Thank you for the 30 years of work. I hope we don’t need 30 more.”
Jackson presented the center with a certificate of recognition from the Legislature for its work.
Christine Eliot, a representative of from Representative Lois Capps (D-23rd District) said she was thankful for all the center had done in rape counseling and informing the public. Eliot presented the center with a copy of a statement the congresswoman made for the congressional record in support of the center’s work and National Sexual Assualt Awareness Month.
Pedro Nava, a member of the center’s advisory board, described the center as a “shelter in the storm.”
“Rape is not a woman’s issue; I am the father of a 16-year-old son, and it is my job to show him by example,” he said. “It’s about respect – listen when they say no; silence is not consent; rape is not a woman’s issue.”
The center’s executive director, Elsa Granados, talked about the shoes.
“The 350 pairs of shoes you see displayed here are representative of the 350 survivors the RCC served last year,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s only a fraction of the people who suffer sexual assault.”
Granados said the diversity of the shoes in the display – men’s, women’s, children’s and shoes of all styles – showed that rape impacts everyone, regardless of age, race or sexual orientation. She also said this diversity represents the steps that can be taken toward ending rape.
“A construction worker wears boots to work; ending rape requires work. Tennis shoes might be worn for something active; ending rape requires running around town, putting up posters and holding workshops. Ballet slippers are used to dance; we must dance our way in and around the criminal justice system,” Granados said.
Donovan said she wanted to see the rally’s message get out to as many people as possible.
“It affects the way we raise our children. It’s a changing definition of manhood. It’s about respect. It affects the way we raise young men,” Donovan said. “Rape is the only crime in our society where the victim is guilty until proven innocent.”
Ross Pitto, a graduate student in media arts and technology, attended the event.
“I think it’s definitely more powerful seeing it than hearing it,” he said. “I think it’s a lot easier to tune out when you hear them.”
Donovan said the shoes used in the display were provided by Alpha Thrift Store in Santa Barbara. The shoes will be displayed around Santa Barbara for the next month – including a display at UCSB’s Women’s Center today.
Donovan also said one unexpected addition to the display was a white paper bag, which one of the center’s volunteers had brought at the last minute.
“It’s the pair of shoes she was wearing the night she was raped,” Donovan said. “That’s the police evidence bag.”