President Barack Obama launched a federal task force on Wednesday to combat sexual assault on college campuses, telling the estimated one in five women who are victims, “I’ve got your back.”
Flanked by senior members of his Cabinet at the White House, Obama said he expected recommendations from the group within 90 days. He credited an “inspiring wave of student-led activism” that has cast a spotlight on the issue in recent years.
Obama called on men to get involved in the fight and “summon the bravery to stand up.”
The White House released a report finding that 22 million women and girls in the United States have been sexually assaulted, the majority by men they know.
The report, by the White House Council on Women and Girls, identified college as a particularly risky place for women, noting that campus rapists are often repeat offenders. Obama called on college presidents across the country to do more to prevent the assaults.
Wednesday’s announcement was seen as a victory by many college activists, who have organized online in recent years to file federal complaints against administrators.
“Having Obama come forward in such a public way is demanding a public shift,” said Alexandra Brodsky, a law student at Yale University who co-filed a Title IX complaint against the school in 2011.
“With one report, one public statement, and the power of his office, President Obama just changed the course of sexual violence on campus,” said Caroline Heldman, a politics professor at Occidental College - Obama’s alma mater – who has helped student activists organize.
“We have a long way to go in this struggle, but campus administrators will no longer be able to drag their feet, retaliate against survivors and enact superficial instead of actual changes,” she said.
The presidential spotlight comes amid a significant rise in federal complaints filed by students across the country under Title IX, an anti-discrimination law that requires impartial investigations of assault allegations, and the Clery Act, which mandates accurate reporting of campus crimes.
There were 30 Title IX complaints involving sexual violence in 2013, up from 11 in 2009, according to the Department of Education, which enforces the law.