The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report on April 28, outlining steps to identify areas of concern and design solutions to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.
The Task Force was created on Jan. 22 and used a 90-day deliberation period to determine four steps of action.
“Earlier this week, the Vice President and our task force released our initial set of recommendations,” Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, said in a conference call with college media on May 1. “We focused first on identifying the problems on campus, … [and] second, preventing sexual assault from ever occurring in the first place.”
The other two steps included effective response to sexual assault incidents and improvement and transparency of federal government enforcement.
Tony West, assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, emphasized the importance of bringing together all parts of the campus community, including policy, administrators, and even campus ministry.
“A holistic approach is absolutely essential if we’re going to win the fight against sexual assault,” West said.
The process will begin with climate surveys conducted by schools and developed with assistance from the task force to diagnose the problem properly.
“Individual schools don’t really know the extent of the problem on their campus, but a climate survey can help solve that,” Lynn Rosenthal, senior White House advisor on violence against women, said.
Although colleges would independently develop the survey in the initial stages, Rosenthal hoped to create a standardized survey for all universities to use.
“We also recommend by 2016 that this survey be required for all institutes of higher education,” she said.
The administrators focused on the importance of understanding the problem, even if the results of the survey are suboptimal.
“When something indicates the school has a higher incidence of sexual assault, that doesn’t mean they’re doing something wrong; it means they’re doing something good in conducting this [survey],” Rosenthal said.
While prevention efforts will include reviews and recommendations from the Center for Disease Control, both Jarrett and West also noted the importance of eliminating the bystander effect, particularly by involving men.
“We need men to stand up,” Jarrett said.
“We need to shift our thinking. We need to do more to encourage our young men to explore healthy masculinity,” West said.
Effective response to sexual assault is the third prong of the plan, as the administrators noted that colleges often disbanded peer counseling and victim support programs because of insufficient confidentiality guarantees.
Finally, to consolidate and simplify federal oversight, the Task Force also introduced a website, notalone.gov, which publicizes enforcement data and provides resources to students and universities.
The White House emphasized the importance of addressing the issue of sexual assault.
“Sexual violence at our nation’s colleges and universities is an epidemic that must be addressed with all the tools we have. It’s a crime but it’s also a civil rights issue,” Jarrett said. “For too many young people, their college experience transforms for a positive experience of educational enrichment … to one of trauma and pain.”
The task force accompanies other recent actions taken by the federal government to address sexual assault on college campuses, including a survey distributed by Sen.Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to over 350 universities, including Georgetown University. On Thursday, the Department of Education also released the names of 55 universities facing a Title IX investigation for their handling of sexual abuse complaints, including the Catholic University of America and the University of Virginia, as well as Harvard College and Princeton University, in an effort to improve transparency.