WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden plan to announce a campus sexual assault awareness campaign from the White House Friday, with a special focus on engaging men in the fight against a largely hidden problem.
White House officials say the campaign, called “It’s On Us,” will challenge everyone on campuses to see sexual assault as their personal responsibility to prevent, but will particularly target male students. Presidential aides point to research shows that men are often reluctant to speak out against violence against women because they believe other men accept it, and that Obama and Biden hope to set an example by speaking out to help change social norms.
The event comes as students are settling in for a new year on campus and follows other White House efforts that have been helping raise awareness about the problem that typically remained in the shadows. Research has shown that one in five college women is assaulted, most victims know their attackers, alcohol or drugs are often involved and only 12 percent of college women attacked report it to police.
“We can do more to make sure that every young man out there – whether they’re in junior high or high school or college or beyond – understands what’s expected of them and what it means to be a man, and to intervene if they see somebody else acting inappropriately,” Obama said in January when he announced a task force to combat the problem. “We’re going to need to encourage young people, men and women, to realize that sexual assault is simply unacceptable. And they’re going to have to summon the bravery to stand up and say so, especially when the social pressure to keep quiet or to go along can be very intense.”
In April, the White House Task Force to Prevent Students from Sexual Assault recommended actions campuses could take to protect victims, such as identifying confidential victim’s advocates and conducting surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on their campuses. And the U.S. Department of Education for the first time publicly exposed the list of colleges under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault complaints. The administration launched notalone.gov to post enforcement actions and show victims how to seek local help and file a complaint.
Many campuses have made sexual assault awareness programs mandatory for incoming students, and Obama, Biden and several male celebrities and sports stars have appeared in public service announcements against sexual assault.
The task force report called so-called bystander intervention one of the most promising prevention strategies for campus sexual assault, meant to motivate witnesses to step in to stop the crime. “When men think their peers don’t object to abusive behavior, they are much less likely to step in and help,” the report said.
The “It’s On Us” campaign will use social media, partnerships with colleges and private partners with reach among college students to attempt to create a culture where sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported. Obama plans to release materials to help support the growing student movement against campus sexual assault and attempt to energize new efforts.
The White House said the task force will announce model policies for schools by the end of September.