Obama campaign is right approach to sexual assault

By Editorial Board

President Barack Obama’s administration has launched a nationwide campaign to make a statement against sexual assault as the outcry against it on college campuses continues to grow.

The It’s on Us campaign, launched Sept. 19, urges citizens to take a pledge vowing to intervene in situations where they suspect a sexual assault is about to take place on college campuses.

The campaign focuses on raising awareness of the issue and is not calling for legislative action, causing some to argue that it does not do enough to actually address the issue. However, by focusing on educating people about what constitutes an instance of sexual assault and what people can do to prevent it, the campaign attempts to address problems that remain largely misunderstood and stigmatized. Colleges are still struggling—and in some cases, failing—to properly report and handle sexual assault cases, victims are still being blamed and acquaintance rapes remain the primary form of sexual assault among college students.

Obama is admirably using his influence as a powerful public figure to raise awareness about an important issue. As president, the significance Obama places on particular topics can sway public opinion. He is the first president to address the issue of rape in such a public way. In January, Obama created a taskforce to further protect college students from sexual assault. The taskforce’s goals are for all colleges to abide by specific guidelines if a student is sexually assaulted and for all universities to conduct surveys to gauge the extent of sexual assault cases among its student body.

This move is similar to one the president made in 2012 to support gay marriage. While the endorsement did little to actually advance the legalization of same-sex marriage, his support brought the topic forward in America and legitimized the discussion of possible solutions.

The taskforce is addressing the increasingly common trend of colleges failing to address sexual assault cases. Columbia University recently came under scrutiny when 10 students were accused of sexual assault during the 2013–2014 school year, but no students were convicted, causing people to question its policy, according to a Sept. 23 university report.

Because Obama has now made a formal public move, colleges may now be held accountable to acknowledge such cases.

The campaign also addresses the issue of receiving consent, specifically with those in relationships or when substances such as drugs and alcohol are involved. As part of the It’s on Us pledge, participants must recognize when they sign that non-consensual sex is sexual assault. By stating that verbal consent must be given before sexual acts can transpire, the campaign is eliminating any confusion that perpetrators often use to defend themselves. The prevalence of sexual assault among couples was exposed in a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, which found that 51.1 percent of sexual assaults committed against females were by intimate partners.

With Obama’s support, the prevalence of the issue among young people is being brought to the forefront on a national scale. The It’s on Us campaign will not only improve education about sexual assault, but will also demand accountability from both perpetrators and college institutions. It will not completely eliminate sexual assault, but it is a step in the right direction.