“In Their Shoes” Deepens Empathy for Domestic Violence Victims

Lucy Bell, Photographer and Student Reporter

Exercises in empathy offer domestic violence advocates the opportunity to practically step into a survivor’s situation and allow them to experience the unexpected trials that victims face, according to a Branches Domestic Violence Shelter director. 

The “In Their Shoes” event, hosted by Branches Domestic Violence Shelter and Marshall University’s Violence Prevention and Response Program, gave others a chance to experience the lives of domestic violence victims through a simulation in which participants walk through a scenario of an actual victim. 

“We call this an exercise in empathy because it really is so powerful and perspective-changing,” Sara Blevins, the Branches director of development, said. “We tend to have an idea of what we think domestic violence is and keep it in that very structured box. But actually, as all these scenarios demonstrate, you can experience domestic violence in a variety of ways.” 

Participants received a scenario and moved through stations that demonstrate different options or institutions victims may have to utilize, such as welfare or legal services. This simulation emphasized the economic toll for victims as well as having to keep their children physically safe. 

Domestic violence is often referred to as gender-based violence as it disproportionately happens to women, with women between the ages of 18 and 32 at the highest risk, according to Blevins.

University students are not exempt from these statistics, however, making the involvement of programs like the Violence Prevention Office and events like “In Their Shoes” vital to students caught up in violent situations, according to the Program Coordinator Alyssa Hager.

“I always just want to remind students that they have resources,” Hager said. “We can help students navigate through all kinds of situations: whether it be sexual violence, interpersonal violence or domestic violence. I think the most important thing is that students know we are a resource for survivors on campus and they are not alone.”