During a call with hundreds of students on Wednesday afternoon, Joe Biden described the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses his “greatest heartache.”
The former Vice President hosted the call on behalf of his sexual assault awareness and prevention organization It’s On Us, which he started with former President Barack Obama in 2014. Biden spoke passionately about how important it is that we all work to combat sexual violence against women and girls.
“This issue of violence [against women] has been a dirty little secret that’s been kept in the closet in American culture,” Biden said. “You know what’s going on but you don’t want to interfere.”
“If you do not intervene you are an accessory.”
The former VP reflected on what it was like to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 and how the law has helped to reduce violence against women. But when he looked into sexual assault statistics in the U.S. years after VAWA was drafted, he was distraught by what he found.
“I had the most disappointing news that I’ve had as an elected official,” Biden said. “That was that violence occurred on campuses ― women between the young ages of 14 and their early 20s ― nothing had changed. The rate of violence, of rape and abuse, was as high as it was when I drafted the VAWA law.”
So, Biden said, he called a virtual town meeting with thousands of college and high school students from around the country and asked them what he could do to help. Almost all of the students got back to him with the same answer: Get men involved.
“Ergo the phrase: ‘It’s on Us,’” Biden said. “It’s on all of us. It’s on the Chrises and the Joes and the Kyles; everybody on campus, everyone in the country who sees this violence occurring has an obligation to intervene. If you do not intervene you are an accessory. If you do not intervene you are sanctioning what happens.”
On Wednesday’s call, the former VP discussed It’s On Us’ week-long activist event called Spring Week of Action that kicked off on April 3. As part of the Spring Week of Action, college and high school campuses across the country will be engaged with It’s On Us by hosting 609 events on 153 campuses in 42 states.
“This issue of violence [against women] has been a dirty little secret that’s been kept in the closet in American culture.”
Biden told the student activists on the call that it was them who could lead the way in changing the culture, adding that college and high school campuses should be “the safest place in the world.”
In summation, Biden defined what “victory” means to him when it comes to tackling the issues of sexual violence and assault:
I’m always asked by the press and by a lot of people: “When do you know there’s victory, Joe?” Well, you know, there’s always going to be violence, but here’s how I measure victory: Victory will be achieved when not a single solidarity woman who is abused, violated, physically or mentally, asks herself “What did I do?” It is never, never, never, never the woman’s fault. No man has a right to abuse women under any circumstances. Period.
Victory, Biden added, will be achieved when “no man attempts to rationalize his brutish behavior based on culture, tradition or the law.”
“There is no justification here or anywhere in the world for a culture that allows the abuse of women and girls.”
Head over to It’s On Us to learn more about the organization.
Need help? Visit RAINN's National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.