U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday renewed pressure on colleges and universities to prevent and police sexual assaults on their campuses, creating a task force of senior administration officials to coordinate federal enforcement efforts. Acting a month after he gave the Pentagon a year to show it had cut down on the number of sexual assaults within the military,

Mr. Obama summoned Cabinet officials and senior advisers to a White House meeting to review progress more broadly against rape and other sexual attacks, with the focus being on problems at college campuses. He then signed a presidential memorandum creating the task force, surrounded by advisers on his White House Council of Women and Girls. On Wednesday,it released a rundown of past and prospective administration actions titled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action.” The issue is a priority of women’s groups, which have been crucial to Mr. Obama’s election victories. Although episodes of sexual assaults within the military have received more attention recently, rape is most common on campuses, the report said. One in five students has been assaulted, it said, but just 12 per cent of them report the violence.

Because many of the attacks occur at parties, victims are often “abused while they’re drunk, under the influence of drugs, passed out or otherwise incapacitated, the report said.

Assailants are commonly serial offenders, it added, citing one study that found seven per cent of male students had admitted to committing or attempting rape, and nearly two-thirds of them said they had done so multiple times — six on average.

Few of them are arrested or prosecuted, the report said, because victims do not report the crimes and because of police “biases” when reports are filed.

Against this backdrop, Mr. Obama gave his task force 90 days to recommend best practices for colleges to prevent or respond to assaults, and to check that they are complying with existing legal obligations.

The task force — which includes the attorney general and the secretaries of the Education, Health and Human Services and Interior departments — was also asked for proposals to raise public awareness of colleges’ records regarding assaults and officials’ responses, and to see that federal agencies get involved when officials do not confront problems on their campuses.

The President said a priority was to find ways to encourage more men to intervene when they see an attack or to report assaults. “I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure in terms of how they are supposed to behave and treat women,” Mr. Obama said.

At his side was Vice-President Joe Biden, who 20 years ago won passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which provided federal assistance for victims, health care professionals and law enforcement. Last year, the President signed a reauthorisation and an expansion of the law.

“Our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, our grandmothers have every single right to expect to be free from violence and sexual abuse,” Mr. Biden said. “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’. And if she can’t consent, it also means no.”

“Men have to take more responsibility. Men have to intervene,” he added. “The measure of manhood is willingness to speak up and speak out, and begin to change the culture.” — New York Times News Service

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