Will This Help Stem Sexual Assaults on Campus?

by Adrienne Vogt

The problem of sexual assault on college campuses is finally getting the recognition it deserves from the highest power in the United States. In a new initiative, President Obama launched a task force to protect college students against rape and sexual assault. A report from the White House Council on Women and Girls, released Wednesday, declares that female college students are most vulnerable to sexual attacks. According to the report, 1 in 5 women have been been sexually abused during college and nearly half of female survivors were raped before the age of 18. That adds up to about 22 million women.

Obama will meet Wednesday with Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Education Secretary Arnie Duncan, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to discuss the most pressing issues.

The report, titled "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action," cites many oft-reported details about college sexual assaults, but the statistics are still rather staggering:

"The dynamics of college life appear to fuel the problem, as many victims are abused while they’re drunk, under the influence of drugs, passed out, or otherwise incapacitated. Most college victims are assaulted by someone they know – and parties are often the site of these crimes. Notably, campus assailants are often serial offenders: one study found that of the men who admitted to committing rape or attempted rape, some 63% said they committed an average of six rapes each."

Nonetheless, only 12 percent of student victims report assaults. The report indicates that the Obama administration is "aggressively working" to stop rape and sexual assault, citing the renewed passage of the Violence Against Women Act, doubling funding for VAWA’s unprecedented Sexual Assault Services Program, and training more healthcare workers and guidance counselors to identify and treat sexual assault victims. It admonishes the low rates of prosecution — saying that two-thirds of survivors have had their legal cases dismissed — and a backlog of rape kits to examine key evidence.

While not addressing anything too specific for future programs, the report calls for increased arrests of sexual assault offenders, continued focus to curb sexual assaults in the military, more resources for schools, and a concentrated effort about "changing of culture."

Well, it's about time. The past year saw numerous disturbing high-profile sexual assault cases on campuses come to light: University of Connecticut students sued the school over its botched handling of at least seven sexual assault cases, a sidewalk oral sex case at the University of Ohio was dropped, and trolls overwhelmed Occidental College's sexual assault form — just to name a few. And as Bustle reported, only about half of schools supply students with sexual assault prevention programs and resources. It's unclear whether these types of blasé attitudes toward sexual assaults in colleges have been built in over time, and if cases are just now being spread quicker by social media.

The White House also reports that 33.5 percent of multiracial women and 27 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have been raped, compared to 22 percent of black women and 19 percent of white women. Additionally, nearly 1.6 million men have been raped during their lifetimes.

While only time can tell if these renewed measures will work, The White House at least deserves a round of applause for trying.