Last week, President Obama announced the creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Charged with developing a coordinated federal response to campus rape and assault, the task force will be co-chaired by the Office of the Vice President and the White House Council on Women and Girls. Other members will include the Attorney General, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Secretary of the Interior, and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Working in an advisory capacity only, the task force's objectives include:
- Provide education institutions with best practices for preventing and responding to rape and sexual assault.
- Build on the federal government's enforcement efforts to ensure that educational institutions comply fully with their legal obligations.
- Improve transparency of the government's enforcement activities.
- Increase the public's awareness of an institution's track record in addressing rape and sexual assault.
- Enhance coordination among federal agencies to hold schools accountable if they do not confront sexual violence on their campuses.
The task force will begin work immediately and provide a report with recommendations for action within 90 days. The members must provide a report to the President on implementation efforts within a year, with annual reports submitted thereafter.
In conjunction with the President's announcement on January 22, the White House Council on Women and Girls released a new report, Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action, that analyzes the most recent data about rape and sexual assault in the United States. The report identifies steps the Administration has taken to combat rape and sexual assault and highlights upcoming initiatives to protect women and girls.
To raise awareness and reduce assaults, the report identifies key issues related to sexual assault and rape, which have affected 22 million women and 1.6 million men. According to the report, young people—college students in particular—are especially at risk: One in five women has been sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of victims report the assault to law enforcement. Consequently, perpetrators are often serial offenders.
The report highlights administration efforts to ensure perpetrators are held responsible and victims receive support. For instance, the Department of Justice hopes to increase arrests and conviction rates by working in conjunction with law enforcement officers, healthcare providers, and victim advocates. The report also points to guidance issued in 2011 by the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education to help institutions understand their obligations under Title IX. The guidance clarified schools' responsibilities to take necessary steps to prevent sexual assault on their campus and respond quickly and effectively when an assault occurs. It also raised student awareness, and complaints are on the rise.
Negotiated Rulemaking Underway
To help address this growing problem, last March President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Several provisions in VAWA require colleges and universities to develop new initiatives to respond to domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Institutions must also provide prevention education programs for students and employees, add new categories to their annual crime reports, and establish procedures for responding to incidents of sexual violence on campus.
The Department of Education has established a negotiated rulemaking committee to help develop proposed regulations to implement changes made to the Clery Act as a result of VAWA. The committee's first meeting, held January 13-14, was marked by impassioned pleas for greater responsiveness from institutions to the needs of survivors. Negotiations are scheduled to end in March, after which ED will publish proposed rules for public comment. ED plans to publish the final rule by November 2014.