Sexual assault task force a good start, but falls short

On Jan. 22, the White House established the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Among a larger call for action from the White House Council on Women and Girls, this specific task force hopes to target campus sexual assault as a much-needed initiative to address a nationwide problem. The report specifically addresses an appeal to men; however, it may not be extensive enough given the appeal to herd mentality. The report addresses military and prison rape and additionally draws attention to the groups that are disproportionately affected: the LGBTQ-plus community, women of color and disabled women. As a result, the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized last year in order to protect the LGBTQ-plus community, Native Americans and immigrant women.

The White House should be applauded for releasing such an initiative as well as focusing on the unique difficulties faced by groups other than white women, especially when the media disproportionately reports and represents white women as rape victims. Indeed, the report also addresses the unique difficulties faced by male survivors as well as the implications of military and prison rape.

In regard to sexual assault on college campuses, the task force reported that one in five women are sexually assaulted on college campuses. Despite these chilling statistics, only 12 percent of victims actually report, often due to police bias against rape victims.

Accordingly, the task force is calling for prosecution reforms, increased resources for rape survivors, a “change of culture” and additional government transparency in enforcing Title IX. In particular, the report focuses on men as allies, enforcing school’s compliance with federal laws and supporting survivors, especially those facing mental health issues.

The report states that 98 percent of perpetrators are male. There is a clear focus on working with men in order to change social norms, citing that men and boys overestimate their peers’ acceptance of sexually aggressive behavior. As a result, men are less likely to intervene as bystanders.

The report encourages seeking men as allies rather than labeling them as would-be perpetrators. Thus, it calls for wider discussion and training which will encourage men to speak out against abuse and rape acceptance myths – for example, “she was asking for it.”

While recruiting men to fight against sexual assault is important, appeals to masculinity and herd mentality will inhibit the possibility of men identifying other men – especially their friends – as potential rapists. Among other myths surrounding sexual assaults, there is the misconception that one can simply “tell” when someone is a rapist.

The report promises prevention training that will work with coaches, boys and men, but what will this consist of? Seeking to change social norms, especially among men, is important to creating larger changes in sexual assault awareness. Among a more modernized definition of rape implemented last year, all people ought to be educated about the implications of consent beyond “no.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 48.8 percent of college women who met the study’s definition of rape did not believe they had been raped. Consent can be demonstrated through body language, what one says or what one does not say. Educating all people about the implications of nonverbal consent is imperative.

If we ensure that this information is common knowledge, it will be conducive to men being more self-aware of what rape is or isn’t. Additionally, ensuring that we are all aware that anyone can be a rapist will allow these implications to become well known and reduce the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses.