January 23, 2014 — President Obama on Wednesday signed a presidential memorandum to create a task force of administration officials to address sexual assaults on college campuses, the New York Times reports (Calmes, New York Times, 1/22).
The task force has 90 days to develop recommendations for colleges to prevent and respond to sexual assaults, boost public awareness on schools' records for handling such incidents and improve coordination among federal agencies to hold schools accountable if they do not address the problem (Pickler, AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/23).
Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center, said, "I think it will really help prod colleges, universities and law enforcement to finally start treating sexual assault with the seriousness it deserves." She added, "Ninety days is an aggressive time frame, but this is a problem that deserves an aggressive time frame" (Emma, Politico, 1/22).
Obama also said the nation must prioritize encouraging men to intervene in and report sexual assaults. "I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure in terms of how they are supposed to behave and treat women," he said (New York Times, 1/22).
White House Report: Risk of Sexual Assault Highest for College Women
The task force announcement was made in conjunction with the release of a report called "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action," by the White House Council on Women and Girls.
The report states that college women are at a higher risk of rape and other sexual assault than any other group in the U.S. According to the report, one in five women are sexually assaulted at college, but just 12% report the assaults (Jackson, USA Today, 1/22).
The report noted that assaults often happen at parties and that perpetrators typically know the victim and commit multiple offenses. For example, one study cited in the report found that 7% of college men said they have attempted rape, with 63% of those men saying they had committed multiple offenses, averaging six rapes per man (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/23).
The report also identifies some health concerns for sexual assault survivors, noting that they have an increased risk of mental health and physical illnesses, including anxiety, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (USA Today, 1/22).
In addition, the report criticizes the criminal justice system's response to sexual assaults, attributing low arrest rates to police bias and a lack of training on investigating and prosecuting sex crimes. It recommends the federal government promote officer training, help police conduct more DNA testing and follow a plan to increase arrest, prosecution and conviction rates (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/23).