“What did I do wrong?” is the question JD Holmquist asked himself after he was sexually assaulted. Holmquist was a junior at UMD when he was drugged, beaten and sexually assaulted. It was his first semester at UMD. He had just transferred from St. Cloud State University (SCSU), where he didn’t feel safe after coming out as being gay, he said.
On Nov. 14, 2009, Holmquist went to Fitger’s with his cousin to celebrate his 21st birthday. His last memory of that night is walking into the Red Star nightclub in Fitger’s. Then he woke up in St. Mary’s Hospital.
“I had absolutely no idea what I was doing there,” he said. “But my whole body hurt and I was looking at my hands and there was a lot of blood.”
Holmquist had been given Rohypnol, he later discovered, either at the Red Star or the Rex bar in Fitger’s. He was with friends, but the security cameras show him walking toward the Lakewalk alone at the end of the night. He was found some time later by a middle-aged couple. He was beaten up and nearly unconscious, lying in the woods between Fitger’s and the Lakewalk. His attacker was never found. Most college students who are sexually assaulted are women. But men are raped, too.
According to a 2007 study, approximately 6 percent of men are victims of completed or attempted sexual assault during their years in college. Numbers in UMD surveys range from 1.8 to 2.7 percent in the past year.
Megan McKendry, co-communications coordinator and board member at Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), a national organization based in New York, said it is rare for male victims of rape to come forward.
“It’s especially difficult for men because this has sort of been cast as a women’s issue,” McKendry said. “There are a lot of barriers in terms of cultural expectations and norms around masculinity that make coming forward for a man, even experiencing rape, just really painful and difficult.”
Holmquist said his breaking point was later the same day he reported the assault. A police officer came to his house to pick up the clothes he had been wearing the night before.
“I kind of just broke down and cried,” Holmquist said. “And I told my mom, ‘I go to school to—I’m learning how to teach people how to prevent this from happening to them, and it happened to me.’ And I think that was kind of like the tipping point that really made me passionate about sexual health, sexual awareness and sexual assault.”
As a 6-foot-2, 200-pound male sexual health educator, Holmquist calls himself the “poster child” of someone who should be safe from sexual assault. And yet it happened to him.
“I always told people when I was teaching them about sexual health, ‘It’s not your fault, you didn’t ask for this,’” Holmquist said. “But then it happened to me and I was like, ‘What did I do wrong?’ And all of the sudden I was questioning everything I had ever learned.”
Natalie Klueg, a friend of Holmquist, said the experience shook him.
“I think he always sort of moved about the world thinking he really understood when he was in danger and when he wasn’t, and that there were things that he could do to make himself safer,” Klueg said. “And that was part of him being an empowered gay man. And what this did for him was really take that from him for a while.”
Later that year, Holmquist began telling his story in sexual health seminars. He is now pursuing a master’s degree in environmental health and sexual health, while working full time at a marketing firm. He said being assaulted made him passionate about sexual health.
Klueg thinks Holmquist has found healing in telling his story. “This did not conquer him,” she said. “I’ve really watched him turn it into something that has just made him stronger.”
Find more on this investigation: Surveys reveal big gap in sexual assault reporting at UMD Sexual assault victims feel pressured to drop charges UMD changing some policies on how it handles sex assaults No sanctions in 14 years
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