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USF men's group advocates for rape prevention

REAL Men’s Jordan Pelaez collects surveys after a presentation on sexual assault prevention to a class at USF in June.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

REAL Men’s Jordan Pelaez collects surveys after a presentation on sexual assault prevention to a class at USF in June.

TAMPA — On the University of South Florida's campus, a group of guys devotes themselves to rape prevention.

They believe in the goodness of their gender but say as long as one in four college women is sexually assaulted, there's work to be done.

Jordan Pelaez is the funny track star. Leader Michael Palin exudes sensitivity.

Women trust Palin. Recently, about 15 minutes into a haircut, the stylist told him about the time she was assaulted.

It wasn't the first time a woman confided in him. That was back in high school, and Palin felt helpless. Why couldn't he travel back in time and stop it?

"Soon, I had all these people disclosing to me," said Palin, 25. "And I knew this was a really big issue."

• • •

Pelaez wandered into the group in a year ago. He needed an extra class, and his friend, Palin, was teaching the REAL Leadership course.

He had no idea what was coming.

He met rape victims. He learned most college women are sexually assaulted by acquaintances, and the vast majority of cases are never prosecuted. And if alcohol is involved, society tends to blame the woman.

"I went home and cried," said Pelaez, 23.

And he joined USF's REAL Men group.

REAL stands for Relationship Equality and Anti-violence League, but this rape-prevention group is unlike any other.

Instead of telling women "Don't walk alone at night" or "Keep your eye on your drink," these men focus on guys.

They walk around campus with shirts that ask in bold "Got Consent?" They want people to ask what it means.

Sex, they say, isn't taboo. But without consent — sober consent — it's rape. And they say it's happening too often at American universities.

• • •

Palin is a Jersey boy who cheers the New Jersey Devils and pumps iron at the gym. In high school, his goal was to join the Navy. He was a star in his high school's ROTC and continued at USF.

As a freshman, he moved into the dorms that housed the Leadership House, spending his free time with like-minded students who tried to lead by example, not lectures.

They spent a lot of time reading, talking and reflecting. One day, some of his friends told him that he didn't seem happy. It didn't appear that he enjoyed what he did. And he was forced to confront that the military wasn't for him.

"I'm not going to do things that don't make me happy," he thought.

Palin hates aggression and violence. He dislikes how people hurt each other, rape included. Now he works in USF's Center for Victim Advocacy & Violence Prevention and runs the REAL Men group.

One of his missions is to shift young men's stereotypes of what it means to be a man. You can be kind, sensitive and gentle, he says. You can cry.

"There's strength in sensitivity, in listening to others," he said. "Think about the eye of a hurricane. There's strength in calm."

• • •

The REAL Men can't be at every party, checking every drink, so they give presentations about ways students can watch out for each other.

If a man appears to be cornering a drunken woman, just go up and ask him, "Where's the bathroom?" Palin tells a classroom full of freshmen.

"It gives her a chance to get away," he says. "And if it's harmless, then what's the worst thing that happened? Now you know where the bathroom is."

Clicking through a PowerPoint presentation, they review facts that seem simple to them: Rape is an act of aggression and control, not lust. It's a crime.

"Raise your hand if you think rape could be partly the woman's fault," says REAL Men member Mike Awbrey. A few men slowly raise their hands.

No, Awbrey says. It's never the woman's fault. It doesn't matter how she dresses or what she drinks. No one wants to be raped, he says.

Outside the classroom, he's exasperated. He and the other REAL Men don't understand their peers sometimes. One time, a student insisted that if women would just abstain from sex, they wouldn't get raped.

"I thought he was kidding," Pelaez said. "It made me so mad."

• • •

On Oct. 13, the REAL Men will don high heels and march through campus.

The group will join dozens of men for the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, aimed at domestic violence awareness.

It's a fun event for such a somber topic, Pelaez said. Last year he grabbed the bright red heels and Palin got gold. As they walk, students snicker while also admiring their confidence.

"After a couple hours, it definitely started to hurt," Pelaez said. "But doing that march was definitely worth a little bit of pain."

USF men's group advocates for rape prevention 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 10:31pm]

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