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01.22.14

Obama Takes On College Sexual Assaults

His new task force hopes to make a cultural change on how rape is viewed, while improving prevention.

President Obama announced today he approved a new task force devoted to combating sexual assault on college campuses. Obama's green light comes just after the release of a new report titled Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action that states one in five young women have been sexually assaulted while attending college, and only an astonishing 12 percent reported the crime. Obama's task force was given three months to make recommendations on how to respond to these staggering numbers—including forms of prevention and improved response from schools. Additionally, the task force will evaluate how federal agencies should hold schools accountable for not properly prosecuting sexual assault claims.
 
Most resounding is Obama's clear intent to create, as the President's senior advisor Valerie Jarrett stated, "a cultural shift of men speaking out” against sexual violence. This is a stated departure for previous sexual assault policies—which often places responsibility on victims and focuses preventative energy on educating potential victims, not their rapists— and comes as a relief to advocates who champion better college sexual assault policies. For Obama, his own daughters, Malia, 15, and Sasha, 12, might have elevated the urgency of the matter.
 
Just this past year, several female college students spoke out on the dismissive responses they received by college administrators after reporting their assault. One female student from Amherst broke national headlines when her testament: “Eventually I reached a dangerously low point, and, in my despondency, began going to the campus’ sexual assault counselor,” she wrote in The Amherst Student. “In short I was told: ‘No you can’t change dorms, there are too many students right now. Pressing charges would be useless, he’s about to graduate, there’s not much we can do. Are you sure it was rape?’” Her accusations were echoed by several schools, including cases at Dartmouth, Duke, and UNC.
 
Many hope the President's acknowledged desire for updated political stance on educational health and sexual assault will improve their ability to condemn their rapists.