Calling sexual assault an affront to society, President Barack Obama signed a memo last month to create a task force to address the staggering number of rapes that occur on college campuses across America.
‘An Affront to Our Basic Decency and Humanity’
During his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama delivered a wide range of resounding indictments against the perpetrators of college sexual assaults. He deemed any sexual assault “an affront to our basic decency and humanity.”
“I want every young man in America to know that real men do not hurt women,” Obama said.
He cited the 1-in-5 odds a woman has of being sexually assaulted in college and called this statistic “totally unacceptable.”
From Unacceptable to Accountable
A report prepared by the White House Council on Women and Girls identified college campuses as one of the riskiest places for women, in terms of sexual assault. One of the most shocking revelations in the report is that campus rapists are often repeat offenders.
This finding highlights an egregious fault of college justice procedures: that while the charges are being noted, attackers are not being adequately disciplined. It seems, moreover, that students are not adequately warned about the presence of these offenders or of the risks they face while on campus.
In response to these findings, the task force intends to hold schools that receive federal funding accountable for accurate reporting of sexual assault statistics.
The creation of this task force follows on similar measures taken against inadequate reporting and response to military sexual assaults.
A Long-Awaited Acknowledgment
What many sexual assault activists and victims found particularly satisfying was the president’s call to collective concern. His speech made it clear that safety against sexual violence is not only a concern for victims, or college students or even for women in general. It is a matter of conscience, dignity and the respect that humans ought to hold for each other.
“We need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted: You are not alone,” the president said. “We have your back. I’ve got your back.”
Vice President Joe Biden, known for his bluntness, added even more directly:
“Freedom from sexual assault is a basic human right … a nation’s decency is in large part measured by how it responds to violence against women.”
Obama credited the efforts of student-led activism in the past few years for bringing this issue to the forefront. He called them “inspiring” for their tenacity in shedding light on an issue that for decades has lurked in the darkness of shame and silence.
The enthusiasm with which campus groups and college women generally have greeted this move is evident in a recent Tumblr blog created in response to the presidential memorandum. “To the Sexual Assault Task Force” offers a list of suggestions for the task force, along with a growing feed of stories and letters of advice from survivors of campus sexual assault.
“With one report, one public statement, and the power of his office, President Obama just changed the course of sexual violence on campus,” said Caroline Heldman, a politics professor at Occidental College, the President’s alma mater. “We have a long way to go in this struggle, but campus administrators will no longer be able to drag their feet, retaliate against survivors and enact superficial instead of actual changes.”
Who Will Be Your Advocate?
For sexual assault victims, advocacy is crucial in the long road to recovery. As Obama’s task force indicates, advocacy means both having your situation acknowledged and seeing measures taken to bring justice to the offender.
Jessica Pride is an attorney who is personally dedicated to every sexual assault victim she represents. Let her help you find the resources you need to restore justice and begin your recovery. Call Jessica for a confidential, no-cost discussion of your legal rights.