White House sets benchmarks for sexual assault policies on campuses

Vice President Joe Biden led a White House task force  to improve colleges' sexual assault responses. Katie Causey | Hatchet Photographer
Vice President Joe Biden led a White House task force to recommend ways to improve colleges’ sexual assault responses. Hatchet File Photo by Katie Causey | Hatchet Photographer

Updated: April 30, 2014 at 4:25 p.m.

A White House task force made sweeping recommendations Monday for colleges to do more to prevent and respond to sexual assault on their campuses.

The group, which President Barack Obama established, called on schools to conduct anonymous surveys about sexual assault, hold bystander intervention trainings and ensure confidentiality in reporting. It released its report after a 90-day review in which members held dozens of meetings with administrators and police forces at universities across the country.

Vice President Joe Biden, who led the task force, will deliver remarks at the White House about the 23-page report Tuesday – just one day after he spoke at GW.

“Colleges and universities need to face the facts about sexual assault,” he said in a statement following the report’s release. “No more turning a blind eye or pretending it doesn’t exist. We need to give victims the support they need, like a confidential place to go, and we need to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

The group will also provide schools with a checklist to draft sexual assault policies, and the government launched a website with information about available resources and how to report an assault.

Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes nationwide. The task force found that one in five college women have survived an assault – but only about 12 percent of those attacks are reported.

GW conducted its first anonymous survey on harassment, stalking and dating violence earlier this month to help shape campus resources for victims. The survey asked students dozens of questions, including whether they felt safe on campus or had ever engaged in sexual misconduct like spreading sexual rumors or forcing someone to kiss them.

“We are pleased to see the White House focusing the nation’s attention on this critical subject,” said Terri Harris Reed, the University’s vice provost for diversity and inclusion, in a written statement released Wednesday.

Reed, who oversees GW’s compliance with anti-discrimination laws, said the University has incorporated bystander intervention training into Freshman Day of Service and educates students about sexual assault resources during Colonial Inauguration and Welcome Week.

“This is something we really care about,” she said. “We are committed to working as a community to protect students from sexual assault.”

The University recently rewrote its sexual assault policy, which ensures a victim can remain confidential during the hearing process. Last fall, administrators removed a time limit to file a formal complaint – which made GW an outlier among at least 50 other schools – after students lobbied against it.

The report comes after the Department of Education found Tufts University’s handling of sexual assault cases and current campus policies in violation of Title IX, a federal law barring sex discrimination. Harvard University is also under investigation after student activists complained about the university’s sexual assault policies.

Universities that are found to not be in compliance with Title IX could lose federal funding. Schools are required to report sexual assaults – and all crimes – that occur on campus under the federal Clery Act, a law passed in 1990 to lay out rules for compiling crime data and issuing warnings.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.