Before it's too late
Instead of teaching students to avoid rape, he's teaching men to not commit it.
He looked up into another crowd of fraternity brothers. Most were required to be there. Some were members of a fraternity being punished. This time, they piled into an auditorium in Woodburn Hall. But wherever he met them — in their meeting rooms and lecture halls and basements of their pillared houses — they always asked the same question.
He saw it appear on the screen behind his head.
“how many sexual assaults were there last year? PLEASE ANSWER THIS” it read.
The questions were texted in anonymously, so the guys would feel comfortable asking what they wanted. What they really wanted, the Don’t Rape Guy thought, was a reason to dismiss the issue.
“I have the stats,” he said. “I know some of them. But I don’t think that we should have a certain number, or meet a certain threshold for this to be important. Right?”
His brow furrowed and his voice grew louder. Everyone knows the statistic, he said.
One in five women who graduate from college have been sexually assaulted. He knows the guys don’t believe it, because they just don’t know many women who have been raped. Should he tell them that just because they don’t know it happened, doesn’t mean it never did?
“I’m tired of talking about the statistics,” he said, even louder now. “I’ve never heard anyone say that it’s one in seven. It’s always one in four, one in five.
“But if it were one in seven, wouldn’t that still be a problem? If it was one in 10? One in 100?”
He took a breath, and another text appeared on the screen.
“okay fine there is a problem. Tell us how to fix it.”
* * *
Sexual assault is a crime IU has tried to curb for decades. During Little 500, the rise in alcohol use only makes the problem worse. So they try crisis lines and counseling sessions. Blue lights and police. Student groups and intervention workshops. Musicals about consent and bookmarks that say, “Passivity is often seen as permission.”
But this year, a student came to campus with a new idea.
What if we could stop rape from happening in the first place, by talking to the people who might rape?
* * *
The Don’t Rape Guy’s name is Mark Houlemarde. He’s a 26-year-old Ph.D. student studying higher education and student affairs. He dresses simply and speaks thoughtfully. He says “partner” instead of girlfriend, “fraternity men” instead of frat bros. He punctuates every few sentences with, “Right?” In front of crowds as big as 80 guys, it’s his way of asking them to think.
“Because no one in this room considers themselves to be a rapist, right?” he says.
Since October, Mark’s job has been to seek out groups of men at IU to talk about not assaulting women.
Almost every minute of his presentations are interactive. He makes them move around, act out scenarios in role-playing games and most importantly, talk out loud about rape. Sometimes he draws an invisible line down the middle of the room and tells them to walk to the side that represents their opinion. Over here for yes, over there for no.
Cross the line, he’ll say, if you think someone can give consent while intoxicated. Always, about half go to each side.
Cross the line if you believe it’s a woman’s responsibility to determine how far a hookup or an intimate relationship should go. More move to “no,” but many cluster in the middle.
Cross the line if you believe sexual assault is an issue on this campus. All but a few move to yes.
Mark works primarily with fraternities. He doesn’t believe fraternities are the problem. Men are the problem, he says, and through fraternities, he can talk to large groups of them.
But according to the Office of Student Ethics, 46 percent of all reported rapes last school year were committed by a fraternity brother.
That’s 10 percent of the population causing almost half of all sexual assaults, Mark tells the guys.
Some brothers listen attentively. Some play on their phones. Some answer his questions with enthusiasm. Some toss their McDonald’s wrappers like basketballs into the trash.
Many of them are hearing about men’s roles in the issue of sexual assault for the first time.
“Women are told not to get raped,” Mark says. “But I don’t know if any men have actually been told, ‘Don’t rape somebody.’”
And if they are, he says, the message is easily undermined by the idea of what men are expected to do in college — meet a lot of girls, get drunk, have sex.
“So then it’s easy to avoid thinking about all the things that go into having sex,” he says. “The communication. The relationship with the other person.”
Most men believe rape is wrong, he says, but it happens anyway. If he can help them understand how and why, he might be able to stop it before it’s too late.
The key is to teach consent. Mark offers them prompts and gets them to say out loud what he knows they need to hear.
Your partner stops or is unresponsive.
“If in any way the girl stops communicating with you, then that’s absolutely a stop,” a brother says.
You feel like you are getting mixed signals.
“There needs to be better communication before you just go ahead.”
You intend to have sex by any means necessary.
“Well, uh, that sounds a little outrageous.”
But what about the spirit of it? Mark asks the group.
“What about, ‘We’re gonna go out tonight, and we’re gonna get some pussy?’”
They hesitate. Then they start laughing. Out of Mark’s earshot, one guy says, “Aye!”
“I mean, if it happens, it happens,” someone replies.
* * *
In front of the crowd in Woodburn Hall, Mark had just finished ranting about statistics. He leaned back in his seat and let the other panelists keep talking as the audience’s eyes shifted to the screen. Questions were still appearing.
“Why are women not held accountable,” one read.
In the small groups of women in the crowd, arms crossed. Men started whispering to each other.
“women should not be held accountable for rape. is a victim of murder accountable for provoking their attacker? nope. violence is violence.” a message read.
“No accountability on women? Did u know that every accident in cars you are held minimally 10% at fault no matter wat”
A brown-haired woman in the middle aisle stood up and raised her hand for the microphone.
She was a sophomore named Sara Hutson, but now was not the time for introductions.
“So, someone sent in stuff about accountability for women,” she said, turning to face the crowd. “So, hi, guys. I’m one of your victims. And the perpetrator is, was, a pledge class leader for one of your fraternities.”
She tried to get out the words to make them understand — what it was like, when he grabbed her from behind in the McNutt hallway — how she was scared of his temper, the time he bit her breast as she pushed him away — why she screamed, when she found him hiding behind her bed, eating pistachios and watching her undress.
“People don’t report sexual assault because we’re afraid,” she said. “Because we know you. Mine was my next-door neighbor. So if I report it and nothing happens, what happens to me?”
Mark and Sara had never met, but he has heard too many stories like hers. People ask him why he doesn’t bring women like her into his presentations. He knows her experiences might help men understand sexual assault is real. It might help them learn not to blame the victim.
He also knows most men wouldn’t see themselves in her story. Sexual assault on college campuses rarely plays out like rapes on TV, a stranger attacking an unsuspecting woman in a dark alley at night.
Rape in college is acquaintances at parties and friends of friends at the bar. It’s alcohol and feeling comfortable in the college town you call home. It’s not understanding how far a hookup is supposed to go. It’s not asking.
He looked at Sara. He looked at the guys. He wondered what it would take.
* * *
Mark has known many women who have confided in him about being sexually assaulted. One of them happens to be his girlfriend.
“When I met Mark, this was already something he cared deeply about,” she says now. “Even without me, Mark would still be doing this kind of work.”
He started working in sexual assault prevention as an undergraduate in California, years before he met her. It wasn’t a certain person or story or experience that got him going.
It was learning rape was an issue and realizing that, as a man, he could do something about it.
“This isn’t rocket science,” he likes to say. If he believed he was special to think this way, he wouldn’t try so hard to get other men to realize that they can think this way, too.
He doesn’t want to be the Don’t Rape Guy. He wants to be one of many.
But for now, his Sexual Assault Crisis Services job — which has no real title and technically is an internship — makes Mark the only man at IU whose position is solely dedicated to rape prevention.
There’s no clear line between his work life and his personal life. Mark can’t ignore the warning signs everywhere on a college campus — parties with themes like CEO Bros and Office Hoes, guys discussing a girl’s ass on their way to the gym out-of-towners who visit IU just to party.
He can’t relax at most bars, so he just doesn’t go. The friend he hangs out with most is a former coworker who Mark guesses is in his 50s. He has never thought to ask. Sometimes they go bird watching.
Mark’s girlfriend worries about the sacrifices he’s made for this job. All of this, for $12 an hour?
“Well,” he told her, “If I don’t, who will?”
* * *
Being the Don’t Rape Guy during the “World’s Greatest College Weekend” is about letting go.
This semester, Mark has spoken at two movie screenings, a conference in Indianapolis, a training for sorority sisters, eight planning meetings and 10 fraternity events.
But during Little 500, that all stops. All around campus, there are few educational events and no campus tours. Some professors even cancel class. Academic life pauses, and the party starts.
Fraternities will day drink and throw late-night ragers. Kilroy’s will add extra cover charges and still pack the patio to the brim.
Porches across town will be cleared for beer pong tables and Solo cups. By Wednesday, the emergency room at Bloomington Hospital will begin one of its busiest times of year.
And Mark will be at home. He really needs to catch up on classwork, he says. He won’t be at Dunnkirk, the ScHoolboy Q concert or the “Risky Business”-themed party on Third Street. It’s not that he hasn’t thought about it — but what would he do? Talk to drunk 20-year-olds? Look for the guys he’s seen in his presentations?
He’s told them not to rape. He just hopes they listened.
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