J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Obama launches national drive to combat campus sexual assault

'Its On Us' campaign urges young men to speak up and stop assaults on fellow students before they happen

The White House launched a national campaign Friday aimed at combatting campus sexual assault, enlisting celebrities and athletes to mobilize college students — particularly young men — to speak up when they see something wrong.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden unveiled the “It’s On Us” campaign at an event at the White House on Friday as part of an ongoing effort to curb campus sexual assault.

“The campaign seeks to engage college students and all members of campus communities in preventing sexual assault in the first place,” the White House said in a release.

The campaign’s website, ItsOnUs.org, features a video address in which Biden and Obama join actors including Rose Byrne, Mayim Bialik and Joel McHale; NBA star Kevin Love and musicians Randy Jackson, Common and Questlove in asking students to prevent assault.

“It’s on us to stop sexual assault,” says “Mad Men” actor John Hamm at the start of the video.

“To get in the way before it happens,” adds Kerry Washington, star of ABC drama Scandal.

The campaign aims to involve college men and urges them to speak up if they see potentially harmful or inappropriate behavior, and to “shift the way we think about sexual assault by inspiring everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it,” according to the White House.

The “It’s On Us” website also features a pledge that it encourages students to sign, which includes four tenets: to recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, to identify situations where sexual assault might occur, to intervene in situations where consent to sexual activity isn’t or cant be given and to “create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported,” according to the site.

The campaign is backed by Generation Progress at The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, in partnership with collegiate sports organizations such as the NCAA, student leaders from nearly 200 colleges and universities and media companies like Viacom and Clear Channel. The groups have signed on to broadcast the public service announcement and other supporting messages at games, on television and online, encouraging users on social media to adopt the “It’s On Us” logo on social media profile pictures.

The campaign also plans to release new best practices documents to help colleges combat sexual violence, which it will post on NotAlone.gov, a central website launched earlier this year where students can find resources about sexual assault including statistics at their particular schools.

The entire effort comes in response to a student activist movement emboldened by a series of federal complaints filed by college students around the country in recent years, accusing their schools of mishandling their sexual assault cases. An estimated one in five college women is sexually assaulted by the time she graduates, but just 12 percent of them report the assaults, perhaps because many schools fail to investigate them even though they’re required by law to do so if they have reason to believe a crime occurred.

The White House launched a task force in January to address the campus sexual assault problem, and months later released recommendations about improved tools for reporting sexual violence on college campuses as well as better prevention and education programs. That includes what’s known as bystander intervention, in which students are taught to speak up and get involved if they witness sexual violence.

“I’m grateful the White House is continuing to direct much-needed attention to the issue of sexual violence on our college campuses,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, who held a series of roundtable discussions on campus sexual assault, said Friday in a release. “If we’re going to turn the tide against such violence, we need the type of cultural shift that the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign aims to bring about.”

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