Open Letter From the Chair Of “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” 2021, Community Leader, Elizabeth O’Hara

I’m a former TV reporter/anchor who’s covered many stories of domestic violence. But there’s one that sticks with me.

Jennifer was in her early 30s and her mom was a family friend.  I never met Jennifer. One day, I got a call.  Jennifer had been murdered and her mother wanted me to help police solve the crime.  Now to be clear, journalists don’t solve crimes.  We tell stories.  And I assured Jennifer’s mom I would do my best to tell hers.

Jennifer’s mom let me into the house where the crime happened.  Black dust marks where fingerprints had been lifted were on walls and counters.  Furniture was overturned.  The trash can still had food in it, the dishes were still in the sink.  And there was blood – a lot of dried blood. It was on the carpet, splattered on the ceiling and dripped into other parts of the house.  I’ve always remembered the perfect bloody handprint left on a white living room wall. It looked like a Halloween decoration left well past season.

October is Domestic Violence Month. The YWCA Paso del Norte will host its annual “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes” fundraiser for the Sarah McKnight Transitional Living Center on Friday, Oct. 22 at San Jacinto Plaza.  The walk was first launched by a California volunteer at a crisis center. He wanted men to talk about relationship violence; to literally walk in a woman’s shoes to understand their stories and survivalism. El Paso businesses are encouraged to sign up teams, use peer-to-peer competitive fundraising, and “walk the walk” of thousands of women in bright red, 3-inch-high heels.  This year, the YWCA will also host a post-event gathering with musical entertainment provided by local band, Fungi Mungle.  The “Paint the Town Red” event will include a 2-hour show, food trucks and the lighting of downtown El Paso skyscrapers as well as the beloved star on the mountain crimson red.

It all sounds like a lot of fun and it will be! But the focus is quite serious. Pre-pandemic, 310 known rapes were reported in El Paso County. Data isn’t yet available for 2020 but what we do know is that when the pandemic hit, women and children already in a tenuous situation found that they couldn’t leave their abuser. Economic strains, job loss, home schooling, and health concerns piled on; local officials reported an increase in violent homes. Post-pandemic many funding agencies were hard hit as people pulled back their usual corporate and personal giving.  As a result, shelters like the Transitional Living Center or TLC are now in a deficit, aiming to meet the same demand of quality care for survivors on fewer dollars.

Your support of “Walk A Mile” makes a huge impact on local families. For instance, a survivor looking to enter the workforce may need help with childcare costs. The TLC will cover that. A woman may be enrolled in classes but need funding for books.  Yup, the TLC covers that also as well as helping to house women and children who need a place to stay as they rebuild their futures.

Jennifer never left her abusive relationship.  Her partner stabbed her multiple times, and he was later arrested and convicted.  That conviction though is not a celebration. Jennifer’s mom was left childless and remains heartbroken 17 years later.

As the chair of this year’s “Walk A Mile,” I humbly ask that you step inside, not Jennifer’s shoes, but her mother’s. She’s a woman who would’ve given anything to help her daughter and others like her. She didn’t get the chance. But you do.

Elizabeth O’Hara, Chair

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