Can a modern-era president, a father of two daughters, cut the horrifying statistic that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted during her college years?
Can he change the fact that only about 12 percent of attacks are even reported?
Call me guardedly optimistic. Societal attitudes and behavior don’t shift easily.
An increase in young people’s binge drinking in recent decades is linked to the alarming numbers. One often-cited study found that 72 percent of campus rape victims admitted having been drunk when attacked.
Did your mind leap toward warning young women about the risks of shooting shots, guzzling the concoctions at fraternity parties and entering chugging contests?
Yes, young people should be warned of alcohol’s ability to lower their decision-making skills. But for too long, this message primarily has been preached to women. It’s a blame game, and one that too often protects a male attacker (who often also is drunk) by shaming the female victim.
In late January, the Obama White House announced a renewed push in a different direction, to press universities on their responsibilities. The approach is simple, so basic to human dignity that it is insulting that past administrations haven’t applied it in full measure.
Women have a right, a federally enforceable right, to be safe on college and university campuses so they can pursue their education. The wedge of equality is Title IX, a 1972 law preventing sex discrimination in education at institutions that receive federal funding. Investigations of colleges and universities are already rising in number.
The administration will work with campuses where complaints have been lodged under Title IX to improve their response to allegations, enhance education programs and address the mental health needs of victims so they can continue to pursue their educations.
Higher expectations are also being placed on men. Men have to change, through their behavior as perpetrators and as silent bystanders.
Both approaches are in stark contrast to how rape and sexual assault prevention have long been framed. The standard response has been “what women can do to protect themselves from men.” It’s almost as if the criminal behavior of sexual assault is to be expected, or is even considered inherent, in what constitutes men as a gender.
That attitude is insulting to young men. It’s also factually inaccurate.