Obama calls for sexual assault task force

White House statement aims to address campus rape, sexual assault

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday he is directing the Office of the Vice President and the White House Council on Women and Girls to lead an “interagency effort” to address campus sexual assault and rape. Obama said many universities provide inadequate assistance to students and lack effective preventative measures.

The task force will provide education on the prevention and response to sexual assault and rape, ensure colleges are abiding with legal protocol for these issues and hold schools responsible for negligence in cases of assault.

Rebecca Weybright, executive director of Charlottesville’s Sexual Assault Resource Agency, said the initiative is effective in that it talks about both prevention and response to sexual violence.

“My hope is that with this task force, it will bring potentially more attention to the issue and potentially more resources for college campuses,” Weybright said. “It’s easy for survivors not to want to report sexual violence if they don’t feel like their institution is going to respond well.”

Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo, chair of the University’s Sexual Misconduct Board, said the University has made many efforts to educate students about these issues and offer services to victims.

“It’s exciting that this issue is getting national attention,” Eramo said. “It can only help us to get more guidance and support from the federal government in the work we’re doing.”

The University had made a strong effort to implement necessary measures to handle instances of sexual assault, said Charlotte Chapman, the director of counseling services at the Women’s Center.

“The Office of the Dean of Students has been proactive,” Chapman said. “We’re in good shape in terms of matching up with what the White House has called for.”

The University will also host a Dialogue at U.Va.: Sexual Misconduct Among College Students, a conference aimed at discussing sexual assault on Grounds and across college campuses nationwide. The conference will be held Feb. 10 and 11.

“We see this as a very critical issue, and we know that this is only the first step,” said Carol Wood, conference coordinator for the organization. “We’re not so naïve as to believe we’re going to solve these problems in this two day conference, but we hope that this is the beginning of the conversation that will lead universities to have follow up conferences to continue to talk about these issues and find solutions.”

Attendees of this event will include counselors who deal with the issues of rape and sexual assault, deans of students and law enforcement officials on college campuses. The University is extending an invitation to people on the staffs of Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, both whom have spoken out about these issues.

“I was pleased to read the reports of President Obama’s initiative to create a task force to look at sexual misconduct on campuses,” University President Teresa Sullivan said in an email. “It’s an important undertaking, and the University is ready to assist in any way it can in this crucial work. In fact, we are hoping that some of the task force members will be able to attend the conference.”

The task force has 90 days to report back to the White House with proposals and recommendations for the President. The proposals must include examples of colleges’ protocols and the measures of success of prevention and response. Following the initial proposals, the task force must report to the President within a year, and annually thereafter, on the protocols of the institution.

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