President Barack Obama ramped up efforts to combat campus sexual violence Wednesday, launching a federal task force to aid colleges and universities in their responses to the problem, which was the focus of a landmark investigation by the Center for Public Integrity.
Flanked by senior members of his Cabinet at a White House ceremony, Obama signed a memorandum establishing the so-called White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Consisting of the Education and Justice Department secretaries, among other administration officials, the interagency group is meant to help schools prevent sexual violence on their campuses, and beef up federal enforcement efforts when they don’t.
“The prevalence of rape and sexual assault at our Nation’s institutions of higher education is both deeply troubling and a call to action,” Obama wrote in his memorandum. “Although schools have made progress in addressing rape and sexual assault,” he said, “more needs to be done to ensure safe, secure environments for students of higher education.”
Charged with developing “a coordinated Federal response to campus rape and sexual assault,” the task force will target many of the issues highlighted by the Center’s investigation. Published in a six-part series starting in 2009, “Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice” — done in collaboration with National Public Radio — showed that campus judicial proceedings regarding allegations of sexual assault were often confusing, shrouded in secrecy, and marked by lengthy delays. Those who reported sexual assaults encountered a litany of institutional barriers that either assured their silence or left them feeling victimized again. Even students found “responsible” for alleged sexual assaults often faced little punishment, while their victims’ lives frequently turned upside down.
A new report, released yesterday by the White House Council on Women and Girls, describes college students as “particularly vulnerable” to rape and sexual assault, noting that one in five women have become a victim while in college. Entitled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” the 38-page report details the Obama administration’s actions against sexual violence in prisons, the military, and on tribal reservations. But it calls campus sexual assault “a particular problem,” noting that “the dynamics of campus life appear to fuel” such incidents.
“Because campus sexual assault is the subject of intersecting federal laws, policies, and grant programs, it is a key area for improved interagency collaboration,” the report states, alluding to the new presidential task force.
In his memorandum, Obama ordered his task force to make policy recommendations in 90 days.
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