Addressing Campus Sexual Assault Must Be a Coordinated Effort

Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to hold many titles. But they all pale in importance to the roles I play as a father, brother, uncle, son and husband.

When I think of the amazing women who make up the constellation of my life, I can't help but think about the statistics about violence against women, which many of us know all too well: Nearly 20 percent of undergraduate women report that they have experienced sexual assault since entering college, most often during the first two years of school. That's in addition to the 6 percent of college-age men who report that they have experienced a sexual assault, a number we know is underreported.

This isn't some abstract policy debate. This is about each of us. It's about our family members. It's about our friends.

That is why I have enthusiastically joined my colleagues to participate in a nationwide university tour to raise awareness of campus sexual assault. We visited 11 schools across the country to meet with students and faculty, many of whom are working every day to fight intimate partner and sexual violence on campus and to train young people about how to prevent and report this type of activity.

This effort is part of the overall initiative by this administration -- which includes the historic White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, led by Vice President Joe Biden -- to talk with students and school administrators about how we can build a future where domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking and teen dating violence are eradicated.

Over the last two decades, we've made important progress, getting resources devoted to stemming the tide of abuse that plagues too many women's lives. At the Justice Department, through our Office on Violence Against Women, we've awarded more than $5 billion in grants to states, tribal governments, educational institutions, and victim service providers, and this year we'll award nearly $400 million more to provide communities and campuses with resources to help address sexual assault and domestic violence.

But one of the things that stood out during my visits to North Carolina Central University in Durham, Loyola University in Chicago, and United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck was that none of these schools is dealing with sexual assault by itself. Each is employing innovative, holistic and campus-specific strategies to develop coordinated community response teams to comprehensively address sexual assault. And they're doing it with Justice Department grant funding.

We know that a coordinated community response -- one that relies on partnerships with student groups, campus police, community victim services organizations, campus ministries, and school officials -- is what is required to turn the tide on this issue.

We have to make sure that schools have a proactive approach to the prevention of sexual assault on campus, one that's grounded in effective, clear policies. We have to do more to ensure that survivor assistance and support is easily accessible and sustained. We have to insist on campus disciplinary processes that deal with offenders fairly, consistently and with certainty, and that they clearly communicate zero-tolerance for sexual assault and dating violence.

Equally importantly, we have to make sure that male students are part of the solution. We need to do more to encourage our young men to explore healthy masculinity and be strong without being violent, and to educate them about the fact that sexual assault is not about sex but about power, violence and abuse. And we need to support those men who are survivors themselves and who summon the courage to share their stories.

We also need to make sure that all students know what consent -- and non-consent -- really means, and how to take action in safe and positive ways as active bystanders to prevent violence from happening.

Survivors everywhere should know that they have a place -- and a voice -- in this administration. They should be reassured that, as President Obama said, "[w]e've got your back."