After a series of highly publicized rapes on college campuses, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a report on April 28 pushing universities to more aggressively combat sexual assaults on campus.
Colleges and universities, ranging from state schools to Ivy Leagues, have received criticism over the past year for their failures to respond to sexual assault complaints. With this in mind, President Barack Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The task force aims to identify the scope of the problem and provide schools with effective methods to prevent and deal with sexual assault.
The report urges colleges to conduct anonymous surveys about sexual assault cases and adopt anti-assault policies to better ensure confidential reports of such crimes. In order to help schools in terms of confidentiality of victims, administration will provide a sample reporting and confidentiality policy that strikes an appropriate balance, according to the Huffington Post.
Some recommendations focus on prevention. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Justice Department “will implement and evaluate sexual assault prevention strategies,” such as getting bystanders involved in speaking out or intervening when someone is at risk of being assaulted, according to the Huffington Post.
“We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue,” Catherine E. Lhamon, the Department of Education assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement.
White House officials say that the recommendations are the first step to a series of efforts to pressure schools to improve their responses to sexual assaults. The White House plans to make a website that enforces data, legal resources, hotline numbers, and information on local mental health services available to students and schools.
“Colleges and universities need to face the facts about sexual assault—no more turning a blind eye or pretending it doesn’t exist,” Vice President Joe Biden said. “We need to give victims the support they need, like a confidential place to go, and we need to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Additionally, the Education Department released a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation regarding their handling of sexual abuse claims, including the University of California, Berkeley and University of Southern California.
UC President Janet Napolitano made a statement regarding the report sent out by the White House Task Force.
“University of California has no tolerance for sexual violence and already has implemented the key recommendations set forth in the White House task force report,” the statement read.
UC Santa Barbara has faced issues regarding sexual assault this year. One group with aims to combat sexual assault is Take Back the Night (TBTN), a student-initiated committee dedicated to raising awareness about sexual violence through survivor empowerment, advocacy, and activism.
“There are two sides to sexual assault: structural and cultural,” said second-year feminist studies major Kelty Kauffman, co-chair of TBTN. “The White House press release is definitely a good first step in addressing the structural part of the problem in that it’s giving students a way to voice their concerns openly. However, in order to address the cultural side of the aspect, we need a campus-wide effort to educate people and take preventative action.”
TBTN holds rallies and meetings that provide survivors with a safe place to voice their thoughts, stories, and accounts of their sexual assault experiences. In addition, Santa Barbara has a 24-hour rape crisis hotline that university and community college students can call if they are ever in danger or need someone to talk to.
“I think it’s good that UCSB is making a big deal out of this issue,” said Scott Yehl, a physical geography major at UCSB. “I currently work as a tour guide here and many people ask about the sexual assault issues happening on campus. It may not make our school look the best, but it’s important to let people know that it happens and should be prevented.”