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White House addresses college rape

Helping campus rape victims framed as an equal education access issue by administration

Emma Lacey-Bordeaux | 4/30/2014, 9:22 a.m.
The White House grounds on September 28, 2012. Brian Yaklyvich

— The Obama administration has taken another step in its effort to combat rape on college campuses with the release of a new report.

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault produced the 20-page report. The task force, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, spent the last three months talking to "thousands of people" and compiled a number of very specific recommendations:

More data: The task force wants to know more about the scope and scale of the problem. The report cites a statistic from the National Institute of Justice that one in five women experience rape or attempted rape in college but say the group needs to know more.

This year, the task force is pushing schools to use its tool kit in 2015 to survey their campuses. By 2016, the task force will be reporting. The report said "we will explore legislative or administrative options to require the schools to conduct a survey."

Survivors need more: In 2011, the administration first alerted schools about their responsibilities to survivors of sexual violence. The administration said that under Title IX schools had to address sexual violence in order to provide equal access to education. But schools have struggled with that. In the past three years many have been publicly cited for failing to live up to these standards.

Most recently, the Department of Education announced that Tufts University "failed to comply with Title IX" in the way it handles sexual assaults. The school wrote it was "surprised and disappointed" with the finding, adding it was "deeply committed to the safety and well-being of our students."

So now the administration is getting more specific. The importance of having confidential advocates is now emphasized. This point clarifies what had been confusing for many, namely that not everyone on college campuses has a duty to report.

"In recent years, some schools have directed nearly all their employees ... to report all the details of an incident to school officials," the report said, "which can mean a survivor quickly loses control over what happens next." That's a critical issue for many advocates who emphasize the importance of returning control to survivors.

The administration calls for further training for those who deal with sexual violence on college campuses.

"Insensitive or judgmental comments -- or questions that focus on a victim's behavior (e.g., what she was wearing, her prior sexual history) rather than on the alleged perpetrator's -- can compound a victim's distress," the report notes.

On the enforcement side, the report calls for new models for investigating and adjudicating cases on campus and for a pilot program aimed at rehabilitating offenders.

Tuesday, the White House unveiled a new public service announcement encouraging men to help women who are in danger of being sexually assaulted. The PSA features several Hollywood stars, including Steve Carell and Seth Meyers and will air in movie theaters beginning in May.

Transparency: One of the biggest problems with sexual violence on college campuses is that no college wants to admit it has a problem. Parents don't want to send their children to a school where data shows more sexual crimes occur, that could ding rankings and potentially cause problems with donors.