White House launches campaign to prevent campus sexual assaults


SHFWire photo by Lorain Watters

Vice President Joe Biden holds hands with Lilly Jay after she told the audience her story of being sexually assaulted and how she overcame it to become a stronger student and woman.

Lorain Watters, SHFWire reporter

WASHINGTON – Sexual assaults have become too common at many college campuses, leaving students feeling unsafe and confused when sexual assault does happen.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hosted an event at the White House Friday to announce a new campaign, “It’s On Us,” that will help campuses nationwide become more aware of sexual assault and how to prevent it.

According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 20 to 25 percent of women at universities are raped or have been sexually assaulted, but only 12 percent of those cases are reported to law enforcement.

“It’s on all of us to change that. So when you take a stand, you’re recognizing that non-consensual sex is sexual assault,” Jordan Brooks, special assistant to the White House chief of staff, said in a statement.

In April 2011, the vice president and Arne Duncan, secretary of education, gave guidelines to campuses nationwide to help them understand how to comply with federal civil rights laws and how to respond to sexual assaults on campus.

In January, the president and vice president created a White House task force to help schools protect their students from sexual assault and give them tools to use, such as pamphlets or providing education at campus orientation.

“For anybody whose once-normal, everyday life was suddenly shattered by an act of sexual violence, the trauma, the terror can shadow you long after one horrible attack. It’s there when you’re forced to sit in the same class or stay in the same dorm with the person who raped you,” Obama said. “It’s a haunting presence when the very people entrusted with your welfare fail to protect you.”

President Barack Obama hugs Lilly Jay, a sexual assault survivor, after the launch of a new campaign, “It’s On Us,” that will bring more awareness to sexual assault on campuses nationwide. Jay’s mother looks on. SHFWire photo by Lorain Watters

Lilly Jay was a special guest at the event. Before introducing the vice president, she told her story of being sexually assaulted as a freshman at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Jay said that, although she was sexually assaulted, she can move on from the traumatic experience with the support from her family and friends and reclaim her college experience.

The program encourages college students to take a pledge to stop sexual assault if they see it happening.

“Recalling rape always hurts,” Jay said. “They help carry the heavy truth that colleges can, and should, be safer.”

“It’s On Us” is directed at both men and women. It will attempt to change the way sexual assault is thought about and assign responsibility to everyone in confronting sexual assault, preventing it from happening.

“They are not going to succeed the way they should unless they are treated as true equals, and are supported and respected,” Obama said. “Unless women are allowed to fulfill their full potential, America will not reach its full potential. So we’ve got to change.”

Reach reporter Lorain Watters at [email protected] or 202-408-1494. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter​.