The Obama administration pushed its campaign against campus rape forward Tuesday partly by calling on colleges and universities to deal with the issue more openly.
White House officials also unveiled a celebrity public service announcement, a new website — NotAlone.gov
— and a series of recommendations aimed at lowering an alarming rate of sexual assaults on college students.
That came as Vice President Joe Biden said college officials, even at risk of their schools’ reputations, “can no longer turn a blind eye and pretend rape and sexual assault don’t occur on their campuses.”
“They need to step up to it,” Biden said.
Higher-education administrators mostly welcomed the White House initiative, even as they stressed that campus rape is a symptom of broader cultural issues that leave both young men and women with confused views about appropriate sexual behavior.
Still, they applauded an effort by the Obama administration to make clear that victims and bystanders alike need to feel safe to report sexual attacks.
“People need to know there is support for reporting,” said Jane McQueeny, who heads efforts at the University of Kansas to improve the reporting of sexual assaults on the Lawrence campus. “Until we do that, we can do all this work, but we are not going to change the underlying culture and viewpoints.”
The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault estimates that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, most often in the freshman or sophomore years. In the majority of cases, it’s by someone the woman knows. Most often, women don’t report what happened.
Biden, introduced Tuesday by a woman who was assaulted at Harvard University, said only 13 percent of women attacked report the crime to their schools.
“They fear they’ll be shamed. They’re embarrassed,” he said. “Or scared they won’t be safe on campus with their attacker roaming around or maybe sitting in the same history class.”
In a report issued Tuesday, the administration outlined its plan to fight campus rape. The steps include identifying the scope of the problem on individual campuses, helping prevent assaults, helping schools respond effectively and making the federal government’s enforcement efforts more transparent.
The recommendations followed three months and 27 sessions with suggestions from more than 2,000 people. The administration plans to hold more listening sessions and revise the report.
University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe joined Biden in February in Washington for one of those sessions. Wolfe has made combating sexual assaults on the system’s four campuses a top priority.
An independent investigation launched by university curators in January found that MU failed to investigate or tell law enforcement officials about the alleged 2010 rape of a former swimmer by at least one of the school’s football players. The swimmer, Sasha Menu Courey, committed suicide in 2011.
Wolfe began a three-part effort to change how sexual assault is viewed, reported and dealt with on his campuses. He ordered his four chancellors to review how they handle sex-crime reports. And he ordered university employees to report claims of sexual assault to the university’s Title IX coordinator. (Title IX of the Civil Rights Act ensures women have equal access to a higher education — including safety on campus.)
Wolfe said he plans to use much of what is in the White House report. He’s not worried that having more sex assaults reported might taint the school’s image. “I’ll take that punch,” Wolfe said, “if we can help more students get the help they need. More students reporting is a good thing.”
The NotAlone website aims to make enforcement data public and other resources accessible to students and schools.
The administration also wants to bring men into the campaign. It released public service announcements featuring President Barack Obama, Biden and actors Daniel Craig, Seth Meyers, Benicio Del Toro, Steve Carell and Dulé Hill.
“If I saw it happening, I’d never blame her,” Craig says in one spot. “I’d help her.”
The administration also will provide training for school officials involved in investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases.
The White House effort elevates the issue “in a way that will get the attention of college campuses,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who has been championing efforts to combat sexual assaults.
Campus climate surveys are intended to show how students feel about their safety and whether they think rape cases are being handled appropriately.
McCaskill is working on a separate survey of 450 schools she says will give a statistically valid sample of what all schools are doing about campus rape.
The senator said individual schools’ responses would be kept confidential to encourage candid responses. Data from the surveys showing the extent of campus sexual assault would be released after a series of meetings beginning in May, she said.
McQueeny, the KU Title IX official, said her school is already doing much of what the White House called for on Tuesday. KU began climate surveys in 2012 to gauge the extent and awareness of sexual assault on campus.
While she called the report “a great road map,” she said it does little to change a victim-blaming environment that has led to under-reporting of the crime.
“By the time kids come to college,” McQueeny said, “a lot of their values and morals are set.”
She recently talked to a group of young men at a fraternity house who seemed confused about what consent looks like and how alcohol changes a situation.
Heather Reed, Kansas State University’s assistant vice president and director of student services, agrees. She said K-State has started making policy changes, including taking sexual assault complaint reviews away from student-conduct boards.
In the fall, K-State is launching an expanded program to train students — victims and bystanders — to report sex offenses.
Reed said that if the national attention and campus awareness plans work, reporting will climb. That, she said, means schools need to be prepared to see bigger numbers for sexual assault on campus crime reports.
From 2010 through 2012 campus police reports showed 37 sex offenses at MU-Columbia; 23 at K-State; seven at KU; and two at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
To raise awareness about violence against women, University of Missouri-Kansas City is hosting it seventh annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at the UMKC Playhouse at 51st and Holmes streets. Men who participate walk a mile in high heels.