White House aims to fight campus sexual assaults

lfalce@centredaily.comApril 29, 2014 

The president wants more done to combat sexual violence on campuses around the country.

With just one day left in April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Obama administration unveiled a new website and a series of actions aimed at addressing the problem.

“The administration is committed to putting an end to this violence,” the White House said Tuesday in a statement.

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault is planning on steps toward goals in the fight against sexual assault, something that happens to one in five women during their college years, generally as a freshman or sophomore.

“As we know, campus sexual assault is chronically under-reported, so victim reports don’t provide a fair measure of the problem. A campus climate survey, however, can,” the statement said.

The surveys would help identify problems, so the administration is “providing schools with a toolkit for developing and conducting” the reports, which would include evidence-based sample questions, test student attitudes and awareness of the issues and work toward solutions. The surveys would be voluntary in 2015, but the administration is “exploring legislative or administrative options to require” the surveys in 2016.

Prevention would be addressed via programming.

“The college years are formative for many students. If we implement effective prevention programs, today’s students will leave college knowing that sexual assault is simply unacceptable. And that, in itself, can create a sea change,” the statement said.

The programming will include pilot strategies implemented on campuses by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Justice Department. The programs would also target bystanders and “teach everyone to speak out and intervene if someone is at risk of being assaulted.” According to the CDC, these programs are the most promising.

Other steps include increasing training for schools to better deal with victims, and improving the federal government’s enforcement efforts to both make them stronger and make them more coordinated with other agencies.

The White House said the Justice and and Education departments have “entered into an agreement clarifying each agency’s role.”

Part of the government’s response is the creation of a new website, www.NotAlone.gov, where students can learn about their rights, search enforcement data and read about how to file a complaint. The site also serves as a resource for schools and advocacy agencies, making information available on legal obligations, best available evidence and research and legislation.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., attended the task force meeting Tuesday. Casey is the author of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, aimed at closing a gap in the law requiring colleges and universities to clearly spell out their policies on sexual violence.

“It’s important that colleges across the country and federal agencies work together to bring much-needed reforms and resources to victims of sexual assault on college campuses. I will continue to work on this important issue with the White House so we can make college campuses a safe place for everyone,” he said.

Penn State officials are evaluating the new initiative.

“"The new guidance from the White House Task Force is welcomed evidence of a growing national commitment to these important concerns. We have yet to completely review the guidelines, but we are confident they express a purpose and commitment Penn State shares,” said Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs.

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