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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.

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