WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden says it's time for men to step up when it comes to curbing sexual assault. But it's not the abusers he's looking at, it's the guys who see something horrible unfolding and don't do anything about it.
"It's not good enough not to be an abuser," Biden said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
"The overwhelming majority of men are not abusers, but they still feel like ... prisoners of social status, which says if a man is mistreating his girlfriend, another man has no right to intervene," he said. "We've got to change this vast middle of the male population to say, 'You have an affirmative obligation to intervene.'"
Biden is targeting men as part of the White House's latest push to curb sexual assault on college campuses -- something experienced by one in five women, according to a 2007 National Institute of Justice study. The vice president met Tuesday with more than a dozen groups that have the ear of males between the ages of 15 and 35, with the goal of coming up with ways to communicate that "being a man" means speaking up if they see a woman in danger of being raped or assaulted.
Groups represented in the meeting included Major League Baseball, NASCAR, GQ Magazine, Funny or Die, the National Hockey League, National Campus Leadership Council and Generation Progress.
College students, especially those in fraternities, need to recognize that "if a guy gets a girl drunk and takes her up into the bedroom," it's okay to say, "'Hey Jack, slow up man. I'm taking this girl home,'" Biden said.
The vice president dismissed the idea that the White House needs Congress to take action in order to have a real effect. "We don't need new laws for this," he said. "We're trying to change culture."
The White House already launched a new Public Service Announcement starring "men that young men admire" who are "macho," Biden said. The video, which will air in movie theaters worldwide beginning in May, encourages men to intervene if they see a woman being assaulted and features actors Daniel Craig, Seth Meyers, Benicio Del Toro and Steve Carell, along with Biden and President Barack Obama.
The vice president said one need look no further than advancements in LGBT rights to see how cultural change comes about.
Ten years ago, if a group of men met for lunch and one of them made fun of a gay waiter, chances are nobody would speak up, he said. "Today, someone would say, 'You horse's tail, what the hell are you doing?'"
Similarly, gone are the days when it is acceptable for a boss to "comment on your short skirt and your great legs," Biden said. He credited Anita Hill for helping to bring change on this front in 1991, when she publicly accused her boss and then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Thomas went on to get confirmed, but Hill drew national attention to the issue of harassment.
"Before Anita Hill and those hearings, that was common place in the workplace," Biden said. "Today it doesn’t happen. The guy who does that will be ostracized."