The White House is taking action on one of the major threats on the nation's college campuses: sexual assault.
President Obama signed a memorandum Wednesday that creates a task force to combat sexual assaults. In the order, the president gives the task force 90 days to draw up some recommendations on how to deal with sexual assaults on college campuses, both in terms of response and prevention. This task force is also being used to increase public attention to an issue that isn't often acknowledged on a wide scale.
"We need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted—you are not alone," Obama said at the memorandum signing on Wednesday. "You will never be alone."
Coinciding with this new initiative, the White House released a report that shows staggering statistics about the threat that many female college students face. Some of those statistics from the report are here:
One of the major points of the report shows that the judicial response to sexual assaults has been inadequate, noting the lack of prosecutions and convictions. The report also notes that victims of sexual assault could suffer from depression or other physical ailments because of the abuse.
The White House hasn't spent much energy on this issue in the past. But some activists have called the issue an "epidemic" and turned to the federal government for help. Students from major universities—including Amherst, the University of North Carolina, Wesleyan, Yale, Swarthmore, and Occidental—have filed complaints in the last three years with the Education Department claiming their colleges violated two major federal civil-rights codes: Title IX and the Clery Act.
Many of these complaints are based on a fear that colleges mistreat the victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment. Some college administrators and law officials have used arguments involving alcohol and false accusations against these alleged victims. The White House in 2011 opened the door for action on many of these complaints, saying Title IX could be used for sexual-assault complaints. In fact, the White House report notes that there should be a culture shift around rape.
"In order to put an end to this violence, we as a nation must see it for what it is: a crime," the report states. "Not a misunderstanding, not a private matter, not anyone's right or any woman's fault. And bystanders must be taught and emboldened to step in to stop it. We can only stem the tide of violence if we all do our part."
Up until now, the White House's sexual-assault prevention efforts have focused on the military, and Obama has directed the Defense Department to tackle that issue. So far, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered military officers to address the problem and says the Pentagon has made progress.