Health

The White House’s New Rape Prevention Campaign Puts The Emphasis On Men

CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, speaks at the White House before signing a memorandum creating a task force to respond to campus rapes.

The White House is launching a new sexual assault prevention campaign, called “It’s On Us,” that hopes to mobilize college men to get involved in the fight against campus rape. The focus of the campaign is somewhat of a departure from traditional anti-rape efforts, which have historically been criticized for putting most of the onus on young women to take steps to keep themselves safe.

The education campaign will be primarily focused on teaching students how to practice effective bystander intervention. “It’s On Us” encourages students to get involved in situations that seem to be headed in a potentially dangerous direction, like when someone at a party has been cornered by a person making aggressive sexual advances. Tips on the campaign’s website include recognizing that intoxicated individuals cannot consent and remembering that victims should not be blamed.

“Most men are not comfortable with violence against women, but often don’t speak out because they believe that other men accept this behavior,” notes a White House fact sheet released on Friday. “By getting men involved, we can change this way of thinking and create new social norms.”

An administration official told the Washington Post that the ultimate goal is to show Americans that sexual assault isn’t an isolated incident of a crime perpetrated against a victim — but rather “a cultural problem in which we all have a role to play.”

Sexual assault prevention activists have long argued that addressing the issue of campus rape involves this type of cultural approach. “Don’t be friends with rapists,” Alexandra Brodsky, one of the founders of Know Your IX, a survivor-led group working to address sexual assault, argued in Feministing earlier this year. “My honest belief is that social ostracism could do more than our current laws. My senior year, I saw a known repeat offender question his treatment of women for the first time because he wasn’t invited to a big party thrown by one of his victim’s friends.”

“It’s On Us” is a result of the White House’s new task force focused on addressing college sexual assault, an issue that has gained increasing prominence as student activists have filed dozens of federal complaints against their universities for allegedly failing to protect victims. From the beginning of the initiative, which was launched this past winter, the president has framed the issue in terms of what young men can do.

“I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure, in terms of how they’re supposed to behave and treat women,” Obama said in January. “That starts before they get to college. Those of us who are fathers have an obligation to transmit that information. We can do more to make sure that every man out there — in junior high, high school, and college — understands what’s expected of them, and what it means to be a man, and to intervene if they see someone else acting inappropriately.”

The new education campaign is a project of Generation Progress, a division of the Center for American Progress. Leading sexual assault prevention organizations, as well as celebrities and sports players, have signed on as partners. And student leaders from almost 200 colleges and universities have agreed to bring “It’s On Us” to their campuses.

Campus activists are glad to see so much national attention on the issue, and hope it will be paired with strong disciplinary policies and victim resources at schools. One of the biggest ongoing controversies in this area is the fact that university administrations don’t always suspend or expel the students who have perpetrated sexual assault, leaving survivors forced to continue attending the same school as their rapist. The White House is planning to release model policies for schools by the end of this month.