White House launches a new task force to end rape on campus

Wednesday, the White House Counsel on Women and Girls and the Office of the Vice President released a report and launched a new initiative to end rape on college campuses.

Due in no small part to the hard work of campus activists, like our own Alexandra and Wagatwe, the president says his administration is focused on ending sexual violence and will hold those schools who receive federal funding accountable for shamefully inadequate reporting procedures on campus. As I’ve said before on this site, hearing the president address this issue that has effected so many of us personally is an emotional experience. When he says, “To anyone out there who has ever been assaulted, you are not alone. You will never be alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back,” I think he really means it. This is an incredible opportunity for all of us to ramp up our efforts to continue to change the conversation around rape prevention. (Transcript after the jump.)

Vice President Biden words were particularly moving because he framed the conversation around what we all can do, including men, to combat gender-based violence, and directly addressed victim blaming. Essentially, the Vice President is echoing the message of “teaching men not to rape” that feminists have been saying since forever.

He knows what I know: Freedom from sexual assault is a basic human right. No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman for any reason — any reason — other than self-defense. He knows that a nation’s decency is in large part measured by how it responds to violence against women. He knows that our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, our grandmothers have every single right to expect to be free from violence and sexual abuse. No matter what she’s wearing, no matter whether she’s in a bar, in a dormitory, in the back seat of a car, on a street, drunk or sober, no man has a right to go beyond the word “No”. And if she can’t consent, it also means no. That too makes it a crime.

The President also knows that we have to stop blaming victims for these crimes. No one ever asks the person who got robbed at gunpoint in the street — why were you there, what were you doing, what were you wearing? What did you say? Did you offend someone? We encourage people to come forward. We don’t have to explain why someone took our money.

My father used to say that the greatest abuse of all was the abuse of power, and the cardinal sin among the abuse of power avenues that can be taken is for a man to raise his hand to a woman. That’s the cardinal sin. There’s no justification in addition for us not intervening. Men have to step up to the bar here. Men have to take more responsibility. Men have to intervene. The measure of manhood is willingness to speak up and speak out, and begin to change the culture.

Read the full transcript here.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/ricketson/ Adam Ricketson

    “No one ever asks the person who got robbed at gunpoint in the street — why were you there, what were you doing, what were you wearing? What did you say? Did you offend someone? ”

    I’m baffled at why people feel the need to exaggerate the situation like this. When I read something like this, my immediate thought is “you are wrong; we do ‘victim blame’ for other crimes”, and my opinion of the speaker immediately drops, and I consequently am more skeptical of their claim. This obsession with combating victim blaming also inhibits having a conversation about how our society allocates responsibility to protect people from crimes.

    Back to the first point — we do expect people to take responsibility for their own safety, and there is always a bit of resentment from others who feel that they are having that responsibility shoved completely onto them. For instance, whenever items are stolen, cops regularly ask whether they had been secured. I remember being taught to be discreet if I’m carrying more than a few bucks in cash, and to always lock up anything valuable. More explicitly, I remember a high school teacher talking about a student who had been mugged, and saying that he (a middle class suburban kid) had no business being in “that neighborhood”. Same goes for getting mugged while staggering home drunk. I can also recall situations where a victims’ suffering was dismissed due to the perception that he had offended his attacker (though racism may have played a part in that).

    Given the reality of victim blaming outside of sexual assault, we should be more careful to indicate how victim blaming is more excessive and less reasonable for sexual assault than for other crimes.

    We also need to distinguish between victim blaming as a way to excuse the criminal (which is always vile) and ‘victim blaming’ as part of a discussion of who has responsibility to prevent crime. The latter is a legitimate discussion, though it needs to be handled in a tactful way with the understanding that the victim is probably already obsessing over what they could have done to avoid the crime (especially if it was an assault). Reflexively hiding behind the ‘victim blaming’ accusation can have some perverse effects, such as when neo-conservatives used it to shut down any consideration of whether the actions of the US government could have contributed to the 9/11 attacks. As with how ‘victim blaming’ is used in the sexual assault debates, the neo-cons conflated the victim-criminal relationship with the victim-protector relationship, and acted as though blaming someone for failing to prevent the crime is equivalent to excusing the criminal.