Obama, celebrities launch campaign to prevent sexual assault on campus

As part of a months-long federal public-awareness effort, the White House will announce Friday 'It's On Us,' a new campaign aimed at preventing sexual assault on college campuses.'

Richared Drew/AP/File
Actor Jon Hamm, of television's 'Mad Men,' speaks at the 2014 New York International Auto Show, at the Javits Convention Center in New York in this April 2014 file photo.The White House has enlisted Hollywood stars, including Jon Hamm, to help fight campus sexual assault. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are unveiling the 'It's On Us' campaign Friday at a White House event.

The White House will announce Friday a new campaign aimed at combating sexual assault on college campuses. 

The campaign, titled "It's On Us," has partnered with brand-name media companies such as MTV, VH1, and BET as well as notable celebrities, such as "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm and Connie Britton of "Nashville," to impress upon college students, especially young men, the importance of taking action to prevent sexual violence before it happens. The NCAA is also a supporter of the campaign and is helping to spread awareness of its efforts through public service announcements. 

Taking a communal tack at grappling with an issue that in the past year has grown to be seen as a widespread crisis on the nation's college campuses, the campaign implores students to view it as their responsibility to put a stop to sexual assault. 

On its website, It's On Us encourages people to participate in the campaign by taking a pledge to "not be a bystander to the problem, but to be part of the solution." 

A key goal of the campaign is to get men, who otherwise might feel pressured to keep quiet, to realize the importance of speaking out when they see an act of sexual assault occurring. 

"Most men are not comfortable with violence against women, but often don't speak out because they believe that other men accept this behavior. By getting men involved, we can change this way of thinking and create new social norms," reads a White House release detailing the new campaign. 

The campaign follows the creation of a White House task force in January charged with spreading awareness of the problem of sexual assault. In April, that campaign launched the "1is2many" campaign to emphasize that one victim is too many. A report released by the task force summarized the severity of the issue – "one in five women is sexually assaulted in college" – and highlighted key steps schools can take to address sexual assault. 

As part of the new campaign, the task force will announce Friday three new "best practices documents" designed to improve universities' response to sexual assault and to help them reform their sexual misconduct policies.

These issues garnered national media attention in the past year, in large part from student journalists and advocacy groups that worked to make known the endemic problems of sexual assault on college campuses. In June, for example, Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. introduced a new sexual assault policy that requires mandatory expulsions in certain instances of sexual assault and also requires that an independent investigation examine complaints. 

More recently, Columbia University in New York has come under fire for its approach in handling sexual assault and rape. In recent weeks, students have staged protests demanding the university change its sexual assault policy. One female student, a victim of sexual assault, has vowed to carry a mattress with her wherever she goes on campus until her perpetrator is expelled. She was one of 23 students who in April filed complaints against the university for mishandling sexual assault cases. 

In response to the public outcry, the US Department of Education in June announced new rules to bring schools' methods of handling campus crimes in closer alignment with federal laws. These new rules require that colleges and universities, for the first time, report annual statistics on instances of sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, and domestic violence. In addition, they change the definition of "rape" to match the one used by the FBI. 

Instead of working with the police, colleges often choose to handle these situations with their own judicial boards. And in these cases, victims are often expected to prove that they resisted their perpetrators either physically or verbally, in order to convince campus boards that they were raped, according to advocates. There's also an entrenched idea that someone consented to a sexual act if it was given in the past to a dating partner, another fallacy advocates seek to stop. 

On the state level, the California State Senate recently passed into legislation what is known as the "yes means yes" law. The law states that sexual consent can never be assumed and requires an "affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement" for sexual activity to be considered legal. 

The announcement of the White House campaign also comes at a time when the NFL has faced severe scrutiny for its botched handling of several high-profile cases of domestic abuse, which officials say further highlights a need for such a campaign at the current moment, reports The New York Times

Chief among the NFL cases is the one involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who has been dropped by his team and indefinitely suspended by the league after video footage surfaced showing him knocking out his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator. 

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