White House issues report on steps to prevent sexual assault at college campuses (Washington Post)

View the White House Report

Federal officials will launch a Web site called NotAlone.gov to support survivors of sexual assault on campuses and also plan to challenge colleges to survey their students next year about sexual misconduct and other safety issues, a White House task force reported Monday night.

“Colleges and universities need to face the facts about sexual assault,” Vice President Biden said in a statement as a 20-page report was released. “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.”

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The Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, which President Obama formed in January, is spotlighting an issue that has gained widespread notice in the past few years because of allegations of sexual violence at prestigious schools such as Amherst College in Massachusetts and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Thepresident of Dartmouth College this month pledged a campaign to end “extreme behavior,” including sex assaults and dangerous drinking, at the college campus in New Hampshire.

Also, Brown University’s president on Saturday said the school would take “aggressive steps to ensure that our campus is safe for everyone” — responding in part to questions raised about a sex assault case reported at the Rhode Island campus.

On Monday, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued a finding that Tufts University in Massachusetts had violated federal anti-discrimination law in its handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints. Tufts said it was “surprised and disappointed” that the federal office found it to be out of compliance with the law known as Title IX. “Tufts University is deeply committed to the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff,” the school said.

The task force, led by Biden and the White House Council on Women and Girls, canvassed assault survivors, college administrators and others for ideas on how to respond to a phenomenon researchers have found: that one in five women is sexually assaulted in college.

Among the report’s top recommendations:

●Colleges should learn about what’s happening on campus through systematic surveys.

“Schools have to get credit for being honest — and for finding out what’s really happening on campus,” the task force wrote. “Reports to authorities, as we know, don’t provide a fair measure of the problem. But a campus climate survey can. When done right, these surveys can gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness about the issue, and provide schools with an invaluable tool for crafting solutions.”

The task force said the administration would consider requiring colleges to conduct such surveys in 2016.

●Colleges should promote “bystander intervention” — in others words, getting witnesses to step in and help when misconduct arises. “To help enlist men as allies, we are releasing a Public Service Announcement featuring President Obama, Vice President Biden, and celebrity actors,” the report said.

●Colleges should identify trained victim advocates who can provide emergency and ongoing support. The administration plans to release a sample reporting and confidentiality protocol, as well as a “checklist” for an effective sexual misconduct policy.

The report also said the government would make enforcement data and other information about sex assault on campuses available through NotAlone.gov. It said the new Web site would collect in one easy-to-read place information that students had often struggled to find. The site will aim to “give students a clear explanation of their rights,” the report said, as well as “a simple description of how to file a complaint” with federal authorities. “It will help students wade through often complicated legal definitions and concepts, and point them toward people who can give them confidential advice — and those who can’t,” the report said.

Serving on the task force were Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Education Secretary Arne Duncan and several other Cabinet members and other government officials.