On Wednesday, President Barack Obama called on the heads of federal departments and agencies to establish a task force to protect college and university students from sexual assault.
The memorandum follows a White House Council on Women and Girls report, titled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” which includes recent national statistics on rape and sexual assault. The report also includes a set of initiatives the Obama Administration plans to implement during the next few years to combat sexual violence.
According to the report, nearly 22 million women have been raped in their lifetimes. Sexual assault particularly affects college campuses, as one in five women have reported being sexually assaulted while attending a university. Most victims of sexual assault on college campuses are abused while they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, passed out or otherwise incapacitated, the report stated. The report also examines the effects of sexual assault, including depression, chronic pain, diabetes, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The White House task force will attempt to better integrate and coordinate all parts of the federal bureaucracy to create a safer collegiate environment.
The task force is set to include the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, among other administrative officials.
The goals of the force are to provide colleges and universities with evidence-based practices for preventing sexual assault, ensure the institutions comply with the practices, increase the transparency of the federal government’s actions to prevent assault, increase public awareness on the issue and coordinate with many different agencies to address the issue.
Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, expressed her optimism for the task force and its potential effect on the University campus.
She said although sexual assault is a complex issue that no single task force can singlehandedly prevent, the president’s tactic of bringing different agencies and departments of the government together will help bring new ideas and initiatives to help end the issue.
“The approach that the president’s approach is modeling — which is to bring many different sides of this issue together to create the best practices — is exactly what is needed,” Rider-Milkovich said.
The task force is one of a series of initiatives the Obama administration has taken to combat rape and sexual assault.
In March 2013, the president signed the third reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which provided new funding for nurse examiners of victims, supported teams that find and prosecute perpetrators and included new protections for LGBTQ, immigrant and Native American victims.
In 2011, Vice President Joe Biden and Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, ordered federally funded schools to provide more information about their responsibilities under Title IX, or a law that requires schools to take the necessary steps to prevent and respond to sexual assault.
Rider-Milkovich said she believes the task force will “complement” the other initiatives of the Obama administration. She added that it will fill the gaps created by the other programs by providing more guidance and support to universities and colleges.
“I can only imagine that hearing President Obama speak directly to them, acknowledging their experiences, and recognizing that the nation has the role to play in keeping students safe and helping survivors heal,” Rider-Milkovich said. “I think that will be a good thing for the University of Michigan and I think that will be a good thing for all colleges and universities.”