Obama Task Force to Address Assault
Published: Friday, January 24, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 24, 2014 02:01
President Obama formed a task force Wednesday to lead federal efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault on college campuses — a move applauded by activists at Georgetown.
The task force will be composed of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as well as the secretaries of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education and the Interior. The group has been given 90 days to propose solutions to help universities best react to reports of sexual assault.
“We’re going to work with colleges and universities and educational institutions of all kinds across America to help them come up with better ways to prevent and respond to sexual assault on their campuses. And then we’ll help them put those ideas into practice,” Obama said in his speech Wednesday.
“I think it’s a really wonderful step forward that sees the president and vice president make such a commitment toward this international crisis that’s been going on for years now,” Erin Riordan (COL ’15), co-founder of the blog Feminists-at-Large, said.
According to a White House report released Wednesday, while one in five American females are assaulted, only one in eight report the incident. A similar report issued in 2012 by the National College Health Assessment Survey found that one in four females and one in 33 males on average will experience sexual assault during their college careers.
“Sexual assault is an issue at Georgetown because people don’t think it is. In a lot of ways, I think people tend to like the idea of safety on or around our campus because there is such a strong and powerful sense of community. I would love to see that sense of community rise up to address this scary reality of something that does happen and shouldn’t be ignored,” former Take Back the Night Board Member Deanna Arthur (SFS ’14) wrote in an email.
As part of the task force, Obama said he hopes to put more social pressure on men to intervene in cases of witnessing sexual assault — a priority agreed upon by Georgetown students.
“I think it’s really important and necessary for men to be a part of this conversation. Bringing men into the conversation can be as simple as looking at the way [men] commend each other for hooking up with girls who were maybe a little too drunk or realizing that certain jokes just aren’t funny,” Arthur wrote.
Sexual Assault Peer Educator and Co-Chair of the Sexual Assault Working Group Mabel Rodriguez (COL ’14) stressed that sexual assault is an issue that affects men and women in equal measure.
“It’s not a women’s issue — it’s everyone issue,” Rodriguez said. “Men are survivors of rape, men rape, and men can definitely change the status quo.”
Sexual Assault Peer Educator and co-founder of Feminists-at-Large Kat Kelley (NHS ’14), agreed, stressing the need for an integration of bystander intervention in education and more information challenging prevalent myths about sexual assault.
“First and foremost, I’d like to see mandatory sexual assault and bystander intervention education at Georgetown. Everyone thinks sexual assault is atrocious in the abstract, but when it happens within their own communities, their social circles, they fail to adequately believe and support survivors and to hold perpetrators accountable,” Kelley wrote in an email.
Kelley also emphasized the need for awareness and education about sexual assault on college campuses.
“As a peer educator, I frequently hear ‘Asking for consent is awkward,’” Kelley said. “If you can’t talk about consent, you shouldn’t be engaged in any sexual acts with the person(s). … A few seconds of awkward is definitely preferable to sexual assault, to trauma.”
Riordan hoped the task force will start by providing support to preexisting campus groups, such as R U Ready and Take Back the Night.
“I think the best thing would be to empower [student advocacy groups] to take more action, to empower them within their school administrations,” Riordan said.
Although the national attention placed on sexual assault creates potential for improvement, it remains to be seen whether the initiative will enact real change, Kelley said.
“I’d like to think the task force will galvanize college campuses and mobilize the necessary resources to address sexual assault, but for now it is merely symbolic,” Kelley said.
Regardless, former Take Back the Night co-chair Lena Hermans (COL ’14) thought Obama’s effort would galvanize broader support for the cause.
“Any time that somebody as mainstream as the president is discussing the issue of sexual assault and just making a statement as simple as ‘this is a problem,’ it’s very powerful,” Hermans said.