President Obama Brings Campus Sexual Assault to the Forefront

President Knapp joined leaders and students at the White House for launch of public awareness campaign.

September 19, 2014

President Obama at Presidential podium joined by Joe Biden
George Washington President Steven Knapp and Student Association President Nick Gumas have joined the Obama administration in its latest effort to prevent sexual assault on college campuses. 
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announced a sexual assault awareness campaign, titled “It’s on Us,” during an event at the White House on Friday.  Dr. Knapp, Mr. Gumas, GW Athletics Director Patrick Nero, Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles and other GW campus leaders joined students, activists, celebrities and politicians at the campaign launch. 
“It’s on Us” aims to create more collective responsibility for protecting women from violence. Its message says that sexual assault is not only a crime committed by a perpetrator against a victim, but a societal problem in which all people—and men in particular—have a role in preventing. 
“It is on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault,” Mr. Obama said at the White House on Friday. “The truth is, it’s not just OK to intervene; it’s your responsibility.”
He and Mr. Biden stressed that rape is not somebody else’s problem; it’s everyone’s problem. It’s not a women’s issue, but a man’s issue too. 


The launch of the “It’s on Us” campaign comes eight months after the president and vice president established the White House task force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The Task Force has since worked to assist schools in preventing sexual assault and to provide practical tools to help.
Still there is more to be done said Mr. Obama. While the campaign is part of a broader effort to drive policy and enforce laws that protect sexual assault victims and hold perpetrators accountable, it won’t be enough “unless we change the culture that allows this all to happen in the first place,” Mr. Obama said. 
Dr. Knapp said he was impressed with the president’s passion for the issue of sexual assault prevention. 
“I thought he spoke very forcefully, and he even indicated a certain amount of anger over the injustice of sexual assault,” Dr. Knapp said following the event. “That, combined with his desire to draw together so many constituents to address the issue, was a very powerful combination.” 
Dr. Knapp added that he hopes this campaign will spark conversations and a cultural shift on campus. 
“Our student leaders have been engaged on this issue, and we are supporting their efforts,” he said. “We want our students to hold themselves and each other responsible for their actions and look out for their peers.”
On Friday, GW released its own public service announcement in conjunction with the “It’s on Us” campaign, featuring six male student athletes, men’s basketball head coach Mike Lonergan and Athletics Director Mr. Nero. In the video, posted on the GW athletics site, the GW athletes tell viewers that there is “a big problem happening on college campuses, and it’s on us to stop it.” 
College students are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. One in 5 women have been assaulted while in college, primarily during their freshman or sophomore years. And in the majority of those cases, the woman knows her attacker. 
A classmate raped Lily Jay just a few weeks after her freshman year. The day she found out that her rapist had raped someone else, she filed a disciplinary complaint. She joined activist groups, which “seemed like a promising antidote to the loneliness to surviving assault.”
Ms. Jay shared her story and talked about the courage it takes for activists to pursue their work during Friday’s White House event. 
“I pantomimed learning and watched educational opportunities slip away,” she said. “Recalling rape always hurts. That’s the terrible irony of sexual assault activism. Using your experience to protect others from rape is so empowering and so important, but it also tethers you to your pain.”
Mr. Biden commended Ms. Jay for her bravery in speaking out about her experiences and emphasized that people continue to “ask the wrong questions” about sexual assault. 
“It is never the right question for a woman to ask ‘What did I do?’ Never. Get this straight—never is it appropriate. The question is, ‘Why was that done to me and why won’t someone do something about it?’"
He called on men, especially, to lead the way in preventing sexual assault on college campuses. 
“So, to the guys out there who are watching this on television: Step up. Intervene. You have an obligation to make a pariah on campus to those on campus who abuse another person,” he said. 
Student Association President Mr. Gumas said one change that he would like to bring to GW is instituting mandatory, in-person sexual assault training for incoming students on campus. He said interest for this type of program has come from student organizations such as Students Against Sexual Assault and the Feminist Student Union. 
“We have an optional component regarding sexual assault at Colonial Inauguration, but I think it’s increasingly becoming more apparent that maybe that is not enough,” he said.
He added that he was pleased to see strong leadership from the president and vice president on the issue of sexual assault, and he hopes that the “It’s on Us” campaign will help to create change not only at GW, but at campuses nationwide. 
“Now that we have this strong centralized leadership in the White House, we can start better coordinating our efforts and start making some tangible changes on college campuses,” he said.
Take the “It’s on Us” pledge, and promise “not to be a bystander to the problem, but to be a part of the solution.”