Firefighter Shane Groot, walking in high heels, carries a woman to the end of the Walk A Mile in her Shoes fundraiser held in Rotary Park in July. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Guest column: Why walk a mile in her shoes

Debbie Scarborough is the executive director of the South Okanagan Women In Need Society

I was raised being told that I couldn’t judge anyone for their actions unless I had walked a mile in their shoes.

Many of us in front line social services work have been tested on this. Working with individuals that are entrenched with addictions, sex trade work and living on the streets challenge our initial thoughts. What if we stop judging and get to know these individuals? When we do, we find commonalities. “What could we possibly have in common with these people?” I have been asked. They were born to a mother, and more often than not, a father. They are a sibling. They had or have a grandma and a grandpa. Often they had a family pet, most often a family dog. Often they have graduated high school and some have post-secondary education. And then, there was some trauma that occurred that caused their world to shift. Most of us have had trauma. Some of us have tremendous resiliency to cope, but some of us don’t.

Related: Walk in Her Shoes stands up to domestic violence

Working in the anti-violence sector has given me the opportunity to work with women (and men, however, most were women) where socio-economics show no boundaries from abuse. I have worked with physicians, police officers, nurses, teachers, counselors and stay at home mothers that found themselves being abused by those they loved. Some ended up on the street after their abuser forced them to use drugs, then reported them as unfit mothers, got full custody of their children and kicked them out of the family home. Hopeless, and feeling helpless they continue to use and find solace in the family/community on the street. Feeling ashamed and embarrassed they lose contact and refuse help from family and friends. To survive they find they can make money by selling their body. Are they still your sister, mother, daughter, niece?

Some will end up murdered and missing on the highway of tears in the northern part of the province. Some will never be reported missing because family hasn’t touched base with them in years and don’t know they are missing. Their bodies are still out there unclaimed.

Some will choose suicide because the pain is so great that they may not believe life will ever get better. When someone is abused, they often feel that they are unworthy of any happiness or anything good in life as that is what they have been told. Over time, that’s what they believe.

The women that do reach out and ask to stay at our transition house or safe homes, will go away knowing we care. They know we do not judge them for their past and for the victimization done to them. The women that drop in to our offices and ask to see a counselor and share what life is like at home will have the ability to see and understand the impact of abuse. They will leave knowing they have options and they are not to blame. These individuals will understand they are worthy of our time, compassion and resources. These women are our sisters, mothers, daughters, nieces, grandmothers, neighbours, friends and colleagues.

Related: SOWINS helping youth in distress

So why walk a mile in her shoes? It is personal. It is professional. It is humanistic. It is because everyone deserves the right to feel safe. Every man that came out to WAM showed a little boy or girl that not all men use violence. Men can be kind and loving. Firefighters, police offices, paramedics, businessmen, grandfathers, boyfriends, sons and fathers showed they will and can walk a mile in her shoes — they will not judge, will not abuse and will not tolerate abuse. The message is to all those still living with abuse that you don’t have to. SOWINS is here whenever you are ready.

Debbie Scarborough is the executive director of the South Okanagan Women In Need Society. Their fundraising event, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, that was held last month to raise funds to establish second-stage housing. Currently the residency in safe houses for women and children is 30 days.