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A REAL man of campus

It takes a REAL man to march publicly in 3-inch stilettos, and Daniel Turk is doing just that in an unconventional effort to end gender-based violence at USF.

Turk, who has been working as a graduate assistant for the USF Advocacy Program since fall 2008, is developing the Relationship Equality and Anti-violence League (REAL) to inspire men to speak out against the abuse of women.

While he was an undergraduate student at USF, Turk wrote a term paper on gender and crime. Since then, he has spoken at the American Counseling Association in North Carolina and traveled throughout the country spreading awareness about teen dating violence.

In his office located in the Student Services building, Turk has a poster of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

That’s the message Turk tries to promote through his work.

“You know (of) a survivor of sexual or relationship violence, and you may not even know it,” he said.

It is estimated that one in every three women around the world have been victim to sexual violence, Turk said. This high percentage was essentially what motivated him to raise awareness about and work on preventing such abuse.

“As a middle-class white male I have a lot of power in society and I want to use this as a platform to end sexual violence,” Turk said.

Turk’s research partner, graduate student Cassandra Armato said REAL is a unique project.

“The REAL program is different from other advocacy programs because it takes the bystander approach and views men as allies instead of as possible assailants,” she said.

Turk said fighting gender-based violence is all about tearing down society’s expectations and rebuilding them based on gender equality.

Recently, popular recording artist Chris Brown was charged with abusing his girlfriend, pop star Rihanna, in a case that was closely followed by the media.

Turk said he feels such incidents encourage violence, and figures that one day Chris Brown “will have another platinum album.”

Though men are also victims of abuse, more often than not it is women who suffer, he said. Therefore, REAL’s goal is to reach out to men and educate them on intervening if they witness a situation that may be harmful for a woman.

For example, if a woman has had too many drinks at a party, a REAL man would take the initiative in making sure she makes it home safely.

“Turk lives what he advocates,” said long-time friend Donald Painter, an instructor at Polk State College. “I definitely think he’s always been that person that is responsible and would drive someone home from a party … (With) sexist jokes … he’s not afraid to say, ‘that’s not cool.'”

The Advocacy Program has reached out to about 20,000 students on campus. REAL is organizing the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event, an international men’s march to stop rape, sexual assault and gender-based violence. Male and female participants will march in high heels for one mile from the Marshall Student Center Amphitheater from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday.

The march had nearly 125 attendees last year. This year, Turk expects around 200 supporters.

All participating men will be asked to sign a REAL man pact, which involves vowing to address sexual violence issues with others, obtain consent for all sexual activity and denounce sexist and dehumanizing jokes, among other things.