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Editorial: Greater action against sexual assault needed

The prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses is finally receiving necessary attention from the White House. Three days before his State of the Union Address, President Obama told sexual assault victims across the country that they are not alone and “I’ve got your back.” A recent White House report concluded that almost one in five women in the United States have been raped and that college campuses are particularly high-risk settings. Obama believes that the government ought to play a bigger role in preventing sexual assault and has therefore created a task force of ten senior staffers to better address the issue — both on college campuses and in the military, where rampant sexual assault is only beginning to be addressed.

The Obama administration has improved the Violence Against Women Act, better addressed sexual assault in the military and used the Title IX network to help sexual assault victims on college campuses whose reports were mishandled. We fully support Obama’s initiatives, but to best effect change we also hope he seeks out sources beyond the task force. Students and policymakers need to make their voices heard, and in order for this to happen Obama must actively include them in the conversation. He has paid lip service to the role of students, claiming, “We have seen progress, including an inspiring wave of student-led activism and a growing number of students who found the courage to come forward and report attacks. That’s exactly what we want them to do.” He even made the important claim that students alone cannot be held responsible for preventing sexual assault, countering the absurd notions that it is the responsibility of sexual assault victims to protect themselves and somehow avoid being raped. But Obama needs to match his words with serious action, which means including the voices of students and policymakers in his task force. Activist groups like Students Active for Ending Rape stand by this position, and it seems that the opinion among activists at Brown is largely the same.

Students at Brown are already working to change University infrastructure and policy. Women Peer Counselors presently receive specialized training on sexual harassment and assault and are in the process of building a large initiative concerning sexual assault at Brown called Stand Up. Furthermore, the University will review the sexual assault disciplinary process this upcoming year, and Brown students are already preparing to suggest amendments. Harpo Jaeger ’14.5 and Lena Barsky ’14, among others, are leading this project, comprised of around thirty students. Sexual assault peer educators at Brown are also considering new initiatives, like the possibility of expanding educational programs to sports teams. Last spring, The Herald conducted the Silent Violence series, which increased campus awareness of sexual assault. We support the efforts of members of the Brown community in this regard and believe that Obama could use projects and initiatives such as these  when addressing sexual assault on college campuses across America.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to


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