Student to encourage assault awareness at event

Students listen to a presentation in Mitchell Auditorium before donning colorful high heels and traipsing around campus during last year’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.
Photo by The Shield
Students listen to a presentation in Mitchell Auditorium before donning colorful high heels and traipsing around campus during last year’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.

Two weeks are missing from Ellen Cooper’s memory — the two weeks following her sexual assault could have never happened for all she knows.

Cooper was 13-years-old when she and a friend went looking for alcohol.

Her friend knew an older man, who said he would give them alcohol for free. Cooper said she offered to pay.

But he didn’t want money, she said.

It is stories like Cooper’s that the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event is trying to bring awareness to.

During the annual event, participants wear high heels around a set course to raise awareness of gender violence, rape and sexual assault on and off campus.

Cooper, who works for The Shield, remembered the assault but has no memories of the two weeks following.

“They say trauma will really leave blank spots in your memory,” Cooper said. “I assume I was in so much pain I don’t remember (the two weeks).”

After the two weeks had passed, her family decided to throw a fish fry. She walked around her neighborhood with a cousin when she spotted her assaulter’s home.

“The guy that lives there raped me, ha-ha,” Cooper said offhandedly.

Her cousin knew something wasn’t right and contacted her dad immediately. Her father contacted the police, who contacted Cooper’s parents.

“The reaction I remember most is my dad violently sobbing. I mean uncontrollably sobbing,” she said. “What really sticks with me how much it hurt him.”

Her parents decided to enroll her in Christian school. As much as she hated it, she said it was extremely impactful.

“Definitely one of the biggest things that helped me to heal was being in a Christian school environment,” Cooper said.

After the incident, she wondered if telling the police what happened was the right thing to do because she stopped trying in school, had to attend court-mandated therapy and stopped practicing for the school orchestra.

Looking back, she said she thinks her offhand response was a way her subconscious was trying to save her and is glad she made the remark.

Walk a Mile participants will walk through the Quad, around David L. Rice Library and the Performance Center and finally come back between the Orr Center and University Center East, finishing at the University Center Amphitheater.

The event aims to help everyone understand they have a role in providing a solution to these issues.

“We want people to see sexual assault as an issue that everyone can be part of the solution,” said Catherine Champagne, assistant program director of student wellness.

Champagne said the event encourages people to recognize the red flags and warning signs of sexual assault and have the courage to intervene.

Before the walk itself, Cooper will speak about her personal experience and attendees will have the opportunity to take the white ribbon pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent on violence toward women.

The event had more than 100 participants in its first year. Now, the event attracts nearly 500 attendees each year.

“In bearing my soul, chances are I will be helping another person,” Cooper said. “If I have to feel uncomfortable in order to do something good for another person, I would 100 percent be willing to do that. I care so much more about what good I can do for a fellow survivor than I do my own comfort.”

Fast Facts:

What: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

When: 5:30 p.m. April 12

Where: Carter Hall

Price: Free