Washington (CNN) – A spike in sexual assaults on America’s college campuses is unacceptable and must end, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday as he unveiled a new effort to stem rapes and other crimes nationwide.
“Sexual violence…threatens the entire country,” Obama said, citing a report from a White House-convened council that shows nearly 1 in 5 women, totaling 22 million altogether, have been raped in their lifetime – and that women in college settings were at particularly high risk for sexual assault.
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While Obama has spoken forcefully in the past about ending sexual assault in the armed forces, the subject of college campus rape has received less attention from the White House, despite high-profile cases nationwide.
“These young women worked so hard just to get into college. Often their parents are doing everything they can to help them pay for it, so when they finally make it there, only to be assaulted, that is not just a nightmare for them and their families, it's an affront to everything they've worked so hard to achieve. It's totally unacceptable,” Obama said at the White House.
The report, released Wednesday by the White House Council on Women and Girls, states that “dynamics of college life appear to fuel the problem” of campus sex crimes – including the prevalent use of alcohol and drugs. Many victims know the perpetrator of the assault.
“Our schools need to be places where our young people feel secure and confident as they prepare to go as far as their God-given talents can carry them,” Obama said at the event Wednesday.
He later signed a presidential memorandum that gives a task force of administration officials three months to develop ways to cut down on sexual violence and increase awareness of the problem. Last year, Obama told top military brass they had a year to show improvement in preventing sexual assault in the armed forces.
During his remarks, the president said men and boys have a responsibility to help change a culture where sexual assault is so prevalent.
“We can do more to make sure that every young man out there, whether they're in junior high or high school or college or beyond, understand what's expected of them and what it means to be a man and to intervene if they see somebody else acting inappropriately,” he said.