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Obama announces sexual assault task force

Sexual assault on campus has been the subject of scandals at UNC and other universities in recent years — and on Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced a task force to tackle the national issue head-on.

“I think that conviction and that passion brings us all here today — because this is not an abstract problem that goes on in other families or other communities,” he said in a speech to the White House Council of Women and Girls. “Even now, it’s not always talked about enough. It can still go on in the shadows. But it affects every one of us.”

Campuses’ handling of sexual assault is subject to intersecting federal laws and policies, including Title IX, which protects students from discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex, and the Clery Act, which provides standard policies for colleges and universities to report crime statistics.

The task force’s aim will be to promote cooperation between the agencies that enforce these polices, and develop a coordinated federal response to campus sexual assault and rape.

One in five young women is sexually assaulted while in college, according to a report released Wednesday by the council.

But reporting rates to law enforcement for campus sexual assaults are estimated at only 12 percent. Reporting rates for all American women are estimated at 36 percent.

According to the report, an emphasis on partying, drugs and alcohol in college culture can fuel the problem.

Almost 60 percent of incapacitated rapes, where the victim is unable to give consent, and 28 percent of forced rapes occur at a party.

“No matter what she’s wearing, no matter whether she’s in a bar, in a dormitory, in the back seat of a car, on a street, drunk or sober, no man has a right to go beyond the word ‘No,’” said Vice President Joe Biden to the council.

Christi Hurt, director of the Carolina Women’s Center, said she is optimistic about the president’s announcement.

“I think any time we are asking more people to engage in the conversation, it is an important step in the right direction,” she said.

She said national attention helps streamline issues across the country instead of individual universities trying to handle reports on a case-to-case basis.

“They can help make sure that not everyone is recreating the wheel from scratch,” Hurt said.

Monika Johnson Hostler, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the media attention on sexual assault is case-specific, which prevents the public from seeing the issue as an epidemic.

But for the president, the problem is personal.

“This is a priority for me not only as president and commander-in-chief, but as a husband and a father of two extraordinary girls.”

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