90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Obama Launches College Sexual Assault Initiative

President Obama will sign a presidential memorandum today, creating a task force to better protect college students from sexual assault.

A new report from the White House Council on Women and Girls says no one in America is more at risk of being raped or assaulted than college women. The report says one in five women have been sexually assaulted at college but only 12 percent report the assault.

Nedra Pickler has been covering the story for the Associated Press and joins Here & Now’s Robin Young with details.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, how the conflict in Syria is impacting politics in Sweden.

YOUNG: But first, a new report from the White House that says that no one in America is more at risk of being raped or sexually assaulted than college women. The report out today from the President's Council on Women and Girls says that one in five women have been sexually assaulted at college, but few report it. So today, President Obama is signing a memorandum creating a taskforce to focus on the issue.

Nedra Pickler is White House reporter for the Associated Press. She had an advanced copy of the report. And Nedra, this is quite shocking. College women?

NEDRA PICKLER: It really is. The numbers in this report are quite stunning. And what's interesting is these are all numbers that have been compiled before, but they don't get a lot of attention by elected leaders. So that's what's remarkable about this event here at the White House today, to have a president stand up, highlight these and try to draw some more attention to this.

YOUNG: Well, a couple thoughts. People might say, well, if women don't report it, how do you really know? But there's another shocking statistic that goes along with the one on women. It's from men. Sixty-three percent of men who admitted to committing a rape or attempting to rape someone on campus said they committed an average of six rapes. So we're talking about serial rape.

PICKLER: That's right. That's a particular problem. Those numbers, to me, are really stunning, because it was a survey of college men, and 7 percent of them admitted attempting rape or committing rape. So, that's just self-identifiers, right? And then, more than half of those, 63 percent of those who admitted it said they had done it multiple times. And so it's a problem of serial rapists, in many instances.

YOUNG: By the way, we were doing some math. There's about 16 million Americans on college campuses. A little more than half are now women. So, when you say seven percent of something like 8 million, that's thousands of young men are admitting to either committing a rape, or several rapes, or trying to. And the report attributes - if you're thinking, well, how can this be, wouldn't there be more sexual assault in, let's say, low-income areas that might have a lot of violence? They're attributing this to drinking and drug use.

PICKLER: That's right. In some cases, maybe the perpetrator is providing drugs or supplying the victim with alcohol. The report notes that some of the perpetrators say they interpret a victim's willingness to drink alcohol as a sign that she wants to have sex. But in some cases, it's just - the report notes the party atmosphere that can exist at college. And often, the victims are incapacitated from substance use, and these rapes occur at parties very, very frequently.

It says in the study that about a quarter of rapes take place at a party, and more than half of incapacitated rapes - you know, where the victim has been passed out or can't fight - happen at a party. So part of what this report also wants to do is kind of change the culture, where it's not just women who are talking about this, but it's men, and that students are looking out for one another at parties so that they can stop this from happening.

YOUNG: Well, I'm just going to jump in to say, you know, what are the school's responsibilities? Students are suing universities for flawed responses to accusations. In June, we heard students who are accused of rape are often allowed to continue to live on campus, while college justice officials - not outside police - investigate.

One student's suing Occidental College, saying her attacker was told he could return if he wrote a book report about sexual assault. And then there was the infamous case at Amherst three years ago, in which a female student said the college discouraged her from reporting. Now, we know that the Amherst College president told us her college is rewriting its sexual assault policies. But what about the role of colleges here?

PICKLER: Right. The law has changed on this, but what's happening is I think that sometimes the law is not being implemented, and it's going to take a few years. But both Title 9, the Clery Act, and also the Violence Against Women Act that President Obama signed - reauthorized and signed into law this past spring have enhanced procedures for sexual assaults on campuses.

So, campuses are now required to have ongoing sexual assault education. I know when I was in college about 15 years ago, there was an orientation where they would talk to you about sexual assault and preventing it, but then it didn't come up, really, again. And now they're required to do it ongoing. They can't kick out students who report assaults, or suggest that maybe they need to go somewhere else. They have to protect them from retaliation. So colleges now have to take these steps. In some cases, they don't, and students are filing complaints.

YOUNG: Nedra Pickler, White House reported for the Associated Press, on the report today from the White House saying that college women are most at risk for rape or sexual assault. Nedra, thanks so much.

PICKLER: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Jason

    The “1 in 4″ or “1 in 5″ statistic is completely false. And here is the math to prove it:
    There are 159 million women in the United States.
    One quarter of that is 39.7 million.
    According the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the total number of Rapes in the United States was 188,000 in the year 2010, which was noted as a 30% decline from 2001. This number includes not only female rapes, but male victims and attempted rapes. This figure includes unreported rapes, as the United Nations listed the number of rapes in the U.S. at 98,000, based upon reported totals.
    If we ignored that the figure includes male rapes, it would take 211 years for all 39.7 million women to be raped, that is three times the average American lifespan.
    Take note that the figure does not say what percentage were attempted rapes, what percentage were male or even what percentage were repeat victimizations.
    By the way, if you try to debate me on this, I will ignore your rebuttals is you use any of the following buzzwords: Rape Culture, Patriarchy, Misogyny (or any derivative). Also, before you label me an apologist, please note that two members of my family and one of my best friends were victims of rape.

    • T.

      Hi Jason, I’m so sorry to hear about your family. The “1 in 5″ stat is not re: American women (159million), but American women *on college campuses*. It is also not re: rape specifically (your 188k number) but re: “sexual assault.”
      Take care!

    • Ed

      Jason’s statistics supported my initial reaction to this story as being yet one more politically motivated attack on men by the women’s movement continuing to seek unwarranted advantages at the professional, personal, and emotional expense of men. While in no way condoning rape, the question is begged why it would be women of supposed talent who would be being raped by supposedly America’s most competent males–this issue involving namely America’s male and female college students? Viewed realistically, one can point to so many situations throughout society now filled by women obviously doing a worse job than males in the same jobs used to do; obviously, this is going to be producing resentments by the males being unfairly unrewarded for their superior skill levels. It brings to mind the adage: If one wants a job done, get a woman; if one wants a job done well, get a man. Perhaps these justified masculine resentments are being inappropriately addressed by a certain percentage of male college students.
      The other related matter these statistics raise is women’s roll in making themselves victims. The “theology” of the women’s movement has always been and continues to be biologically clueless. Women may be sending signals to the men which traditionally indicate they are available for sex and then get mystified when their behavior results in a rape or an attempted rape. Again, this in no way excuses a rapist or his actions, but it brings to mind analogous situation of a drunk, reckless woman driver barreling down a public street who hits and injures the clueless man who walks out into the line of traffic without ever looking to see if there is any oncoming traffic. Doesn’t the man share some of the blame for the fact that he was injured?

      • Sheila McAndrews Toomey

        ” If one wants a job done, get a woman; if one wants a job done well, get a man.”
        Says the man who has only seen women on television or in line at the store.

  • Norm

    I’m not capable of composing a screed like the experts below, but I think the biggest part of the problem goes unmentioned. Sexual assault continues to be headline news all over the world. In the US, it’s rife on college campuses, high schools, and in the military. The next time a survey of this type is done, men and women should be asked if they view porn. This can’t be ignored as why young men in our time feel entitled and young women feel it’s their only worth to comply. Add alcohol and drugs, and you have your answer. Perhaps these experts can somehow square tempering the sexual degradation of porn (to both sexes) with the First Amendment issue. But I’d vote for the .XXX extension for all porn sites. You’d think the Christian right would be fighting for that. Or maybe not.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 15 26 Comments

A Call To Reject Corporal Punishment As Part Of Black Culture

An incident of child abuse by an NFL player has raised questions about the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the African-American community.

September 15 26 Comments

Would You Pay To Get Your Kid Into A Top College?

A San Francisco company charges parents for a consulting package based on the odds their student will get into a certain university, with prices up to a million dollars.

September 12 9 Comments

Senator: Arab Countries ‘Need To Step To The Plate’ In Fight Against ISIS

Mark Begich (D-AK) is one of the few members of Congress speaking out against a key part of President Obama's plan for fighting the Islamic State.

September 12 Comment

Ecuadorian Drilling Damage Inspires Documentary

An American and an Ecuadorian are inspired to help Ecuador heal from decades of drilling and oil spills.