As Victor Gomez got to the scene of the crime, he saw the looks on everyone’s faces and knew something horrific had just happened. The former Hollister city council member was at the apartment complex where his older sister, Elizabeth, resided, when someone from the sheriff’s department told him that his sister had been stabbed to death by her former boyfriend.
“I was devastated,” says Gomez, a longtime Hollister resident who will be the emcee of the fifth annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event on April 22, the international men’s march to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence. “I picked up the phone and made calls to my mom and all of our family members. That was horrible.”
The tragedy happened a little over 10 years ago, and Gomez, 38, has found an incredible way to help prevent other families from experiencing tragedies like the one that befell his family—by participating in an event that is designed as a men’s march against violence, where male participants are encouraged to walk a mile in high heels.
Women are also encouraged to participate in a show of solidarity. High-heeled shoes will be provided to every male registrant. The proceeds benefit the Emmaus House, a Hollister based domestic violence shelter for women and children, and Community Solutions, a non-profit human services agency serving San Benito and Santa Clara Counties.
The Emmaus House and Community Solutions have combined to host the event in Hollister since the inaugural year in 2013. Gomez can’t wait to participate in the event again.
“I’ve emceed, walked or volunteered in this event every year since it started,” Gomez says. “Initially, I was really motivated obviously because of what happened to my sister—that drove my desire to get involved. But as I continued to emcee the event, it took on a larger meaning for me.”
That’s because it was only after Elizabeth had been murdered when the Gomez family learned there was previous physical abuse in the relationship.
“The Walk A Mile in Her Shoes is a great way to draw attention to some important issues,” says Erica Elliott, who is the Sexual Assault and Prevention Manager at Community Solutions. “It’s also an opportunity for families to be involved in the community.
“In 2016, Community Solutions provided crisis intervention and support services to 65 survivors of sexual assault and more than 75 survivors of intimate partner abuse in San Benito County,” says Elliot.
Patrice Kuerschner is the executive director of the Emmaus House, which provides a safe harbor for women and their children seeking immediate relief from a threatening situation.
In October 2016, Emmaus House celebrated its 10 year anniversary providing shelter services to over 1,445 survivors of intimate partner abuse and providing crisis intervention and safety planning to over 4,000 individuals,” Kuerschner says in a press release. “We are excited to hold this event again in Hollister. It is such a great event to raise awareness about these issues in our community.”
A little over 10 years ago, Gomez and his family endured the most painful moment of their lives. There isn’t a day when Gomez doesn’t think about Elizabeth—“We were very close,” he says—but amid tragedy Gomez has found a worthy calling. Nothing will ever take away the pain Gomez felt as he approached his sister’s apartment, but he rests in the redemptive joy of preventing similar tragedies.
Says Gomez: “We all need to interject, step up and not ignore the warning signs (of violence),” Gomez says. “If we would’ve known about my sister being previously abused, maybe we could’ve prevented it. That’s why I love this event—because the Emmaus House and Community Solutions are here to prevent the exact things that happened to my sister. Not only that, but they empower women to get out of these relationships and renew their lives.”
The Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event is April 22 , 2017 starting at 10am on the corner of Fourth Street and San Benito Street. Registration and information is available at walkamilesanbenito.org. Early registration is $35 for men, $25 for women, $15 for teens, and free for children 11 and under.