White House Provides Path Forward in Combating Campus Sexual Assaults

Recommendations include an annual student survey on sexual assault and a new website detailing different schools’ history with sexual violence.

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on February 18, 2014. One of nine in-person listening sessions, the meeting brings together student advocates, survivors and educators who are working to improve sexual assault policies and procedures at their schools.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
April 29, 2014, 2 a.m.

The White House on Tues­day will re­lease re­com­mend­a­tions from its Task Force to Pro­tect Stu­dents from Sexu­al As­sault, the first in a series of pro­pos­als from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to com­bat the epi­dem­ic of rapes on col­lege cam­puses.

Seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials pre­viewed the re­com­mend­a­tions in a call with re­port­ers on Monday even­ing, not­ing that the pro­pos­als are the res­ult of 90 days of talks with col­leges of all sizes and stripes, as well as ad­min­is­trat­ors, stu­dents, par­ents, ad­voc­ates, law en­force­ment, and vic­tims.

The re­port is just the first step that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing to com­bat sexu­al as­saults on col­lege cam­puses. One in 5 col­lege wo­men are sexu­ally as­saul­ted dur­ing their col­lege ca­reer, most of­ten dur­ing the first two years of school and most of­ten by a per­son they know, one of­fi­cial said, cit­ing a 2007 sur­vey. “This is not a wo­man’s is­sue, in the sense that it is ours alone to fix,” the of­fi­cial said, call­ing the re­port an “im­port­ant step for­ward.”

The re­com­mend­a­tions in­clude the launch of a new web­site, NotAlone.gov, which will provide in­form­a­tion on loc­al rape crisis ser­vices and the his­tory of sexu­al vi­ol­ence at vari­ous in­sti­tu­tions of high­er learn­ing. “[It’s a] very poignant name for us be­cause we heard from so many sur­viv­ors who said they felt alone,” one seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said.

Per­haps most sig­ni­fic­antly, the task force is also bor­row­ing a re­com­mend­a­tion from Con­gress that has the sup­port of mem­bers in both cham­bers. Un­der that pro­pos­al, uni­versit­ies will be en­cour­aged to con­duct so-called “cli­mate sur­veys” an­nu­ally to get more data on the pre­val­ence of cam­pus sexu­al as­saults and at­ti­tudes that stu­dents hold to­wards rape, and to find out wheth­er stu­dents are aware of how to get coun­sel­ing and oth­er ser­vices. The an­onym­ous sur­veys, which have already had some suc­cess in the mil­it­ary, would be vol­un­tary for col­leges and uni­versit­ies to be­gin with, but ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials hope to make them man­dat­ory by 2016.

Ad­di­tion­al re­com­mend­a­tions in­clude im­prov­ing train­ing for cam­pus of­fi­cials and health care work­ers and cre­at­ing a mod­el to help uni­versit­ies deal with sexu­al as­saults while pro­tect­ing the con­fid­en­ti­al­ity of vic­tims.

One of­fi­cial said that the uni­versit­ies par­ti­cip­at­ing in the task force’s listen­ing tour showed a “tre­mend­ous” amount of sup­port for the pro­cess. “We think [these re­com­mend­a­tions] will be wel­comed by schools,” the of­fi­cial said.

The White House will of­fi­cially un­veil the task force’s re­com­mend­a­tions at an event on Tues­day. Sens. Kirsten Gil­librand, D-N.Y., and Claire Mc­Caskill, D-Mo., who have been strong ad­voc­ates for pre­vent­ing sexu­al as­saults in both the mil­it­ary and in col­lege set­tings, are slated to at­tend. Both sen­at­ors are sup­port­ive of the task force’s re­com­mend­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to a seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial.

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