Obama Takes Aim at College Sexual Assaults

New task force to look at campus crimes

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President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, center, meet with, from left, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, Tina Tchen, who is also the Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington to discuss the Council on Women and Girls.

President Barack Obama established a task force to combat sexual assault on college campuses Wednesday, with the aim of promoting best practices for preventing assaults and working with federal agencies to hold schools accountable for addressing the issue.

“We’ve got to keep teaching young men in particular to show women the respect they deserve and to recognize sexual violence and be outraged by it, and to do their part to stop it from happening in the first place,” Obama said Wednesday, calling sexual assault an “affront to our basic decency and humanity.”

The announcement followed a meeting between Obama and leaders of the White House Council on Women and Girls, which released a report examining rape and sexual assault. One in five women are sexually assaulted while in college, according to the report.

Almost 22 million women have been raped in their lifetimes, the report said, and the majority of victims are between 16 and 24 years old. Students’ on-campus lifestyles, which can includes heavy partying, drinking and drug use, add to the problem, given that many victims are assaulted while under the influence. And while the majority of on-campus victims are assaulted by a person they know, only about 12 percent of victims report the crimes to law enforcement.

The creation of the task force builds on administration efforts to curb sexual assault on campus. In 2011, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued guidance to schools on the issue. Under federal laws, schools are obligated to prevent and address sexual assault, and to report crimes on campus. Throughout 2013, the Department of Education opened investigations at a number of colleges after students filed federal complaints alleging schools weren’t sufficiently addressing assaults on campus.

The Obama administration has also taken steps to address the criminal justice response to sexual assault by providing funding through the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act.