In the twilight of a breezy Monday evening, dozens of shoes in all shapes, sizes and colors lined the steps leading to the stage at Galvez Plaza in downtown Baton Rouge, each empty pair representing someone killed in an act of domestic violence.
They were placed there as part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. Community leaders, including Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and District Attorney Hillar Moore, gathered alongside victims of domestic and sexual violence and their advocates for “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes,” an event to raise awareness for an issue often shrouded in silence.
According to the Washington D.C.-based Violence Policy Center measuring the most recently available data from 2017, Louisiana ranks second in the nation in women murdered by men. The Louisiana Coalition of Domestic Violence said in a press release this rate has increased for the sixth consecutive year.
Many of those attending the event donned shades of purple, the color representing domestic violence awareness. Organizations such as the Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR) and the Iris Domestic Violence Center set up booths along the stage with literature about spotting early signs of abuse and how to seek help.
Broome thanked the different organizations for collaborating on the issue. She emphasized the need for community support, particularly because many victims of domestic violence end up homeless.
Twahna Harris of The Butterfly Society, the local domestic violence awareness organization that hosted the event, encouraged the community to speak out against domestic violence.
“It takes each and every one of us coming together and standing united, shoulder to shoulder, saying yes, we no longer accept domestic violence in our communities,” Harris said. “Too many times we hear the stories of women and men whose lives have been taken from them, and the shoes before us represent that.”
After two emotional testimonies from survivors of domestic violence, the names of victims killed in domestic violence incidents across the state were read aloud. Harris urged participants to return to their friends and family and have conversations about domestic violence to discourage silence around the issue.
Harris closed her speech by speaking directly to those living in "the shadow of domestic violence."
"We are your voice," Harris said. "We will speak for you when you cannot speak for yourself."