President Obama vowed Wednesday to combat sexual assault on college campuses, telling the estimated one in five women who are raped in college, “I have your back.”
Flanked by senior members of his cabinet at a White House news conference, Obama signed a presidential memorandum establishing a task force to recommend policy changes within 90 days to protect college students, especially women, from sexual assault.
Obama credited an “inspiring wave of student-led activism” that has cast a spotlight on the issue over the past year. He vowed to make the issue a priority and called on men to get involved in the fight and “summon the bravery to stand up.”
A report released Wednesday by the White House Council on Women and Girls found that 22 million women and girls in the United States have been sexually assaulted, most of them by men they know. Only 12% of college students who are assaulted report the attacks to police, the report says.
The report identifies college as a particularly risky place for women and says campus rapists are often repeat offenders. The president called on college presidents across the country to do more to prevent assaults.
The U.S. Department of Education has seen a significant spike in complaints filed by students across the country in recent years.
In California, students have filed federal complaints against USC, Occidental College and UC Berkeley, alleging the schools had discouraged victims from reporting their assaults and had bungled investigations.
State auditors launched a review of four campuses: San Diego State University, Cal State Chico, UCLA and Berkeley.
Amid the scrutiny, evidence has mounted that the colleges have failed to comply with federal laws that require impartial investigations of sex assault allegations and accurate reporting to the federal government.
Last fall, USC and Occidental acknowledged that they had failed to report dozens of sexual assaults in their annual crime reports in 2010 and 2011. In September, Occidental reached a monetary settlement with at least 10 women who were part of the federal complaint.
In December, a Times review found an additional two dozen or more sexual assaults that Occidental has failed to report, a likely violation of federal reporting laws.
Similar stories have surfaced about campuses across the country as students and their supporters use federal laws to hold adminsitrators to account.
The task force Obama launched Wednesday appears to target those concerns, calling on federal agencies to coordinate their response to the growing complaints.