Politics & Government

White House starts new public awareness drive to prevent sexual attacks on campus

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Friday launched a new public awareness campaign at campuses across America to prevent sexual assaults.

Called “It’s on Us,” the new campaign will try to get students and others on college and university campuses to play a part in trying to stop sexual violence before it happens.

“So to the survivors who are leading the fight against sexual assault on campuses, your efforts have helped to start a movement,” Obama said at a White House event.

Obama said that “there are times when the fight feels lonely, and it feels that as if you’re dredging up stuff that you’d rather put behind you. But we’re here to say, today, it’s not on you. This is not your fight alone. This is on all of us, every one of us, to fight campus sexual assault. You are not alone, and we have your back, and we are going to organize campus by campus, city by city, state by state. This entire country is going to make sure that we understand what this is about, and that we’re going to put a stop to it.”

The White House also released a new public service announcement.

Advocates say many rapes are not reported, and that on campuses the assaults most often occur during women’s first two years at college by someone they know.

The new campaign will have a strong focus on engaging college-age men to take part in bystander intervention and raise awareness of the problem on campuses.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a former sex crimes prosecutor, attended the launch ceremony and said she appreciate the White House effort to draw attention to the problem.

“If we’re going to turn the tide against such violence, we need the type of cultural shift that the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign aims to bring about. But change doesn’t happen quickly, which is why we need to pass our bipartisan legislation that will help curb these crimes, protect and empower students, and ensure perpetrators are held accountable,” McCaskill said.

She and other senators have introduced legislation that would establish penalties for schools that don’t comply with new standards for training, data collection and best practices for handling cases of sexual violence.

RAINN, an anti-sexual assault group, one of the groups and companies that make up a partnership with the White House on the campaign.

"One of the most effective ways to prevent rape is to mobilize men and women on campus to join together in stopping perpetrators before they can commit a crime,” Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN, said in a statement. “RAINN has joined the ‘It's On Us’ campaign as a partner to help bring attention to the important role that students play in keeping their friends safe and preventing rape on campus. We also need to make sure that if a friend is sexually assaulted, students know how to support him or her and ensure they have access to the help they deserve through the National Sexual Assault Hotline and local resources."

Other partners include the NCAA; Electronic Arts, a video gaming company that will carry the message on its games; and Viacom, which will use it on MTV, VH1, BET and CMT.

The new public awareness campaign is the latest in a series of steps the White House has been taking recently to reduce campus sexual violence. In 2011, the administration gave guidance to help schools understand their obligations under federal civil rights law to prevent and respond to sexual assaults on campus.

On Friday, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which was set up in January, also released three documents of best practices to help colleges and universities improve their responses to sexual assault. The documents will be posted on the website NotAlone.gov.