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Editorial: Combating Campus Rape

Obama Moves to Stem Sex Assault

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“I’ve never been able to get close to a guy. I just imagined his hands on me every time and sort of spiraled into a breakdown. It’s not just one night they hurt you when they do stuff like that, it’s every night from then on. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t dream about what he did to me.”

Those are the words of a rape victim, a Penn State student who recounted her experience in an interview posted on an independent campus blog called Onward State. The victim also said that at times she felt responsible for the assault because she wore a short skirt, drank, and danced.

What happened to the young woman was, of course, not her fault, and it is all too common, according to a new White House report. Nearly one in five women in this country have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes, the report says. So have one in 71 men, another startling figure.

The numbers motivated President Obama, the father of two adolescent daughters, to launch a federal task force that has been given 90 days to recommend policies to reduce sexual assault on college campuses. “We’ve got to keep teaching young men in particular to show women the respect they deserve,” Obama said last week.

The report notes that some of the highest rates of sexual assault occur among students. “This violence, and the stress, fear, and mental health challenges that often follow, combine to increase dropout rates and limit opportunities for success in college,” wrote senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. Reducing sexual assaults, she added, is key to the administration’s goal of including more women in the workforce.

The relatively short 90-day time frame for the task force to complete its report may be a good sign given that this isn’t the first time Obama has addressed the topic. In 2010, he urged more aggressive action to decrease rapes. In 2011, the Department of Education issued new guidelines for colleges handling sexual assaults. In 2012, the government redefined rape to better reflect reality by including male victims. And last year, Obama signed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which funds specialized training for law enforcement and health professionals.

By now, Obama must know that saying something should be done won’t get it done, so he’s created a task force to push things forward. Given its deadline, the panel should take full advantage of the wealth of recommendations already made by other organizations to reach consensus on what else the nation should do about sexual assault.

For example, Women Vote PA, an initiative of the Women’s Law Project, has made recommendations for schools at every level from kindergarten through college. First and foremost is adopting and making readily available to students clear guidance on what constitutes sexual misconduct, what is and is not consent, how to report an assault, and what campus and community resources are available to victims.

Ultimately, students must act more responsibly, too. As Obama said, it’s a matter of showing respect for one’s peers and being willing to step in to help those who are vulnerable.

The Philadelphia Inquirer