Obama Issues Call to Action on Campus Rape and Sexual Assault

January 23, 2014 - 9:45 AM

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President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden 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, in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) - Victimhood moved to the top of the presidential agenda Wednesday, as President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Secretaries Chuck Hagel (Defense), Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services) and Arne Duncan (Education) met to "discuss their commitment to combatting rape and sexual assault in all settings," including higher education, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday.

"During the meeting, the president and vice president reiterated their deep personal interest in doing everything possible to root out these types of abuse and build on the steps their administration has taken to protect Americans from it."

The impetus for the high-level meeting was a report issued earlier Wednesday by the White House Council on Women and Girls, which "identified key areas to focus on...including working to change social norms, improving criminal justice response and protecting students from sexual assault."

In remarks at the gathering, President Obama said, "Sexual violence is more than just a crime against individuals. It threatens our families. It threatens our communities. Ultimately, it threatens the entire country. It tears apart the fabric of our communities.

"And that's why we're here today, because we have the power to do something about it. As a government, as a nation, we have -- we have the capacity to stop sexual assault, support those who've survived it and bring perpetrators to justice."

As part of the new effort, President Obama signed a memorandum establishing a White House task force on protecting students from sexual assault.

"The prevalence of rape and sexual assault at our Nation's institutions of higher education is both deeply troubling and a call to action," the memo says. "Studies show that about one in five women is a survivor of attempted or completed sexual violence while in college. In addition, a substantial number of men experience sexual violence during college. Although schools have made progress in addressing rape and sexual assault, more needs to be done to ensure safe, secure environments for students of higher education."

The memo notes that schools participating in federal student financial aid "must provide students with information on programs aimed at preventing rape and sexual assault, and on procedures for students to (report) rape and sexual assault.  Those institutions must also adopt and publish grievance procedures that provide for the prompt resolution of rape and sexual assault complaints; and investigate reports of rape and sexual assault and take swift action to prevent their recurrence.  

Survivors of rape and sexual assault must also be provided with information on how to get the support and services they need.  

But according to memo, compliance with those federal laws is "uneven" or "inadequate."

"Building on existing enforcement efforts, we must strengthen and address compliance issues and provide institutions with additional tools to respond to and address rape and sexual assault," the presidential memo said.

Carney said President Obama expects to received the task force recommendations within 90 days.

"Working to combat rape and sexual assault in all settings has been a priority for the president and vice president throughout their time in office," Carney said, "and these new efforts build on steps that this administration has taken to combat these crimes, including last year's reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act... which the vice president himself authored, and the series of executive actions that Secretary Hagel recently announced to address sexual assault in the military."

Obama's memorandum indicates that the task force recommendations won't be limited to colleges and universities:

"Because rape and sexual assault also occur in the elementary and secondary school context, the Task Force shall evaluate how its proposals and recommendations may apply to, and may be implemented by, schools, school districts, and other elementary and secondary educational entities receiving Federal financial assistance."

Also See:
Deal reached in Mont. university sex-assault probe
UConn president defends response to sex assaults