WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is launching an initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses, turning the spotlight on a problem that has devastated millions of Americans yet rarely receives such White House attention.
Obama planned to sign a presidential memorandum Wednesday creating a task force to protect students from sexual assault, with a new White House report declaring that no one in America is more at risk of being raped or assaulted than college women. The report, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” says that 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted at college but that only 12 percent of student victims report it.
The report was compiled by the White House Council on Women and Girls. It says that nearly 22 million American women and 1.6 million men have been raped in their lifetimes, with victims more likely to suffer from depression, substance abuse and a wide range of physical ailments, including chronic pain and diabetes.
Rape’s prevalence is highest at college, fueled by drinking and drug use that can incapacitate victims, the report said. Assaults often happen at parties, most student victims know their attackers and campus perpetrators are often repeat offenders. One study cited by the report found that 7 percent of college men admitted to attempting rape, and 63 percent of those men admitted to multiple offenses, averaging six rapes each.
Obama, who has overseen a military that has grappled with its own wave of sexual assaults, is giving the task force of administration officials 90 days to come up with recommendations. He’s assigning them to address suggestions for colleges to prevent and respond to the crime, increase public awareness of each school’s track record and enhance coordination among federal agencies to hold schools accountable if they don’t confront the problem.