Calling sexual assault “an affront to our basic decency and humanity,” President Obama convened the White House Council on Women and Girls to step up the administration’s efforts to combat rape and other sexual violence and announced a new task force that will focus specifically on protecting students.
The event was focused on the release of a new report form the Council identifying current facts and figures around sexual assault and highlight areas for improvement. Among the statistics in the report: nearly 22 million women and 1.6 million men in America have been the victim of a rape, and that one in five women have experienced sexual assault at college.
That fact, the president said, is “totally unacceptable.”
“Sexual violence is more than just violence against individuals. It threatens our families, it threatens our communities, [and] it threatens the entire country,” the president said. “We have the power to do something about it.”
The White House Task Force on Protecting Students from Sexual Assault will have 90 days to develop recommendations that can help colleges and universities prevent and respond to assaults, increase transparency about schools’ efforts, and better prepare the federal government to step in if there is insufficient action.
Among further action outlined in the report is a recommendation to continue the development of better interviewing, investigative and prosecution protocols that can be employed to identify rapists and sex offenders. It also says the administration should channel more resources toward vulnerable populations and work to change the perception of sexual assault.
To hammer that point home, Mr. Obama directly addressed men. “I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure in terms of how they are supposed to behave and treat women. That starts before they get to college,” he said.
“We need to encourage young people, men and women, to realize that sexual assault is unacceptable,” the president added.
The report also points to the prevalence of sexual assault in the military, where Pentagon officials estimate that as many as 26,000 service members suffered an attack in 2012. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has worked to improve accountability and improve victims’ rights, the report says, and has been instructed by the president to continue focusing on the issue and report back on progress by December 2014. Reforming the sexual assault system in the military was the subject of a fierce congressional debate last year with a push by Sen. Kristin Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to take the decision to prosecute out of the chain of command.
Before the event, Mr. Obama met with Hagel, along with Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss ways to prevent sexual assault in all settings.