White House Report Lays Out Plans For Combating Campus Sexual Assault

A White House task force issued a report Tuesday aimed at dealing with sexual assault cases at colleges. The report offers basic guidelines for schools and sets up a national reporting system.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. The White House is taking on the issue of campus sexual assault. Today, it released a series of recommendations aimed at prevention and enforcement. As part of the campaign, the administration cited a stark statistic. They say 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted in college. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Survivors and activists, college presidents and members of Congress gathered in an auditorium in Washington, D.C., today for Vice President Joe Biden to officially release the report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. But first, they heard from Madeleine Smith.

MADELEINE SMITH: It's been just over two years since I was sexually assaulted at Harvard. And it's been a little under a year since my experience with the disciplinary process came to an end.

KEITH: She said she knew that if she shared her experience, she'd want people to know about the personal moments no one ever talks about.

SMITH: I would want to share what it's like when your dad answers the phone, and you have to find a way to tell him that the one thing he never wanted to happen to his little girl had happened. Or what it's like sitting in a room of Harvard professors as they look at a magnified photo of your backside covered in bruises and broken blood vessels.

KEITH: This was her first time publicly telling her story. Biden told Smith she's giving other young women courage.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Colleges and universities can no longer turn a blind eye, or pretend rape and sexual assault doesn't occur on their campus.

KEITH: The recommendations are wide-ranging, and include encouraging universities to survey their students to get a better sense of the scope of the problem, protecting the privacy of victims, improving enforcement, and trying to shift the dialogue away from blaming the victims.

BIDEN: It doesn't matter what, quote, "she was wearing"; whether she drank too much; whether it was in the back of a car, in her room, on the street. It does not matter. It doesn't matter if she initially said yes, and then changed her mind and said no. No means no.

KEITH: And that, said Biden, requires men to get involved. To that end, the White House teamed up with celebrities including Benicio del Toro and Steve Carell to create a public service announcement that will play in movie theaters, targeted at men and bystanders.

(SOUNDBITE OF PSA)

BENICIO DEL TORO: If she doesn't consent or if she can't consent, it's rape, it's assault...

STEVE CARELL: ...it's a crime. It's wrong.

BIDEN: If I saw it happening, I was taught you have to do something about it.

KEITH: Many of the recommendations are voluntary, and the report doesn't go as far as some activists would like. But this very public action is a victory for those who have been working on this issue for years. Kelly Addington read through the White House recommendations on her cellphone on a flight to Washington, D.C., to be at today's event.

KELLY ADDINGTON: I won't say it's the first time that I felt like we were all heard. But it feels like it's the first time that we're getting attention on this national governmental level.

KEITH: Addington was sexually assaulted in 1997 on her college campus in Florida, and that experience prompted her and her best friend to create a group called One Student. Earlier this year, she participated in one of the many listening sessions Biden and others in the Obama administration held as they developed the recommendations.

ADDINGTON: And the fact that I saw some of the conversations that we had in that room shown in their answers, in the report - this is what we're going to do, this is what you said and now, this is what we're going to do - I was blown away.

KEITH: And her favorite part of the report was the end. It said: This is just the first step.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House.

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