President Obama Takes On Sexual Assaults on College Campuses

The White House on Wednesday released staggering statistics on sexual assault, as the president launches a new initiative.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Jan. 22, 2014, 9:37 a.m.

The White House is tak­ing ac­tion on one of the ma­jor threats on the na­tion’s col­lege cam­puses: sexu­al as­sault.

Pres­id­ent Obama signed a memor­andum Wed­nes­day that cre­ates a task force to com­bat sexu­al as­saults. In the or­der, the pres­id­ent gives the task force 90 days to draw up some re­com­mend­a­tions on how to deal with sexu­al as­saults on col­lege cam­puses, both in terms of re­sponse and pre­ven­tion.

This task force is also be­ing used to in­crease pub­lic at­ten­tion to an is­sue that isn’t of­ten ac­know­ledged on a wide scale.

“We need to keep say­ing to any­one out there who has ever been as­saul­ted — you are not alone,” Obama said at the memor­andum sign­ing on Wed­nes­day. “You will nev­er be alone.”

Co­in­cid­ing with this new ini­ti­at­ive, the White House re­leased a re­port that shows stag­ger­ing stat­ist­ics about the threat that many fe­male col­lege stu­dents face. Some of those stat­ist­ics from the re­port are here:

the sexu­al as­sault epi­dem­ic | Cre­ate in­fograph­ics

One of the ma­jor points of the re­port shows that the ju­di­cial re­sponse to sexu­al as­saults has been in­ad­equate, not­ing the lack of pro­sec­u­tions and con­vic­tions. The re­port also notes that vic­tims of sexu­al as­sault could suf­fer from de­pres­sion or oth­er phys­ic­al ail­ments be­cause of the ab­use.

The White House hasn’t spent much en­ergy on this is­sue in the past. But some act­iv­ists have called the is­sue an “epi­dem­ic” and turned to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment for help. Stu­dents from ma­jor uni­versit­ies — in­clud­ing Am­h­erst, the Uni­versity of North Car­o­lina, Wes­ley­an, Yale, Swarth­more, and Oc­ci­dent­al — have filed com­plaints in the last three years with the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment claim­ing their col­leges vi­ol­ated two ma­jor fed­er­al civil-rights codes: Title IX and the Clery Act.

Many of these com­plaints are based on a fear that col­leges mis­treat the vic­tims of sexu­al as­sault or sexu­al har­ass­ment. Some col­lege ad­min­is­trat­ors and law of­fi­cials have used ar­gu­ments in­volving al­co­hol and false ac­cus­a­tions against these al­leged vic­tims. The White House in 2011 opened the door for ac­tion on many of these com­plaints, say­ing Title IX could be used for sexu­al-as­sault com­plaints. In fact, the White House re­port notes that there should be a cul­ture shift around rape.

“In or­der to put an end to this vi­ol­ence, we as a na­tion must see it for what it is: a crime,” the re­port states. “Not a mis­un­der­stand­ing, not a private mat­ter, not any­one’s right or any wo­man’s fault. And bystand­ers must be taught and em­boldened to step in to stop it. We can only stem the tide of vi­ol­ence if we all do our part.”

Up un­til now, the White House’s sexu­al-as­sault pre­ven­tion ef­forts have fo­cused on the mil­it­ary, and Obama has dir­ec­ted the De­fense De­part­ment to tackle that is­sue. So far, De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel has ordered mil­it­ary of­ficers to ad­dress the prob­lem and says the Pentagon has made pro­gress.

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