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White House makes push to stop college sex abuse

Brockport, N.Y. -- In a call for transparency and increased training to combat sexual assaults on college campuses, the Obama administration has created a new website that will post enforcement actions it's taken against schools.

The website, NotAlone.gov, will also provide information for victims on where to go for help.

A White House task force on sexual assault recommended actions Tuesday, calling on colleges and universities to take action to protect victims, and inform the public about the magnitude of the problem of sexual abuse. Suggestions include identifying confidential victim's advocates, and conducting surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on their campuses.

"I think it's a really common thing that's often overlooked, especially by the staff and faculty from colleges, in order to keep the name of the college clean and not smeared," said Bridget Murphy, a freshman at the College at Brockport.

The recommendations stem from a 90-day review by a task force created by President Obama in response to complaints about the poor treatment of campus rape victims, and the hidden nature of such crimes.

Murphy said that it's a problem that's become apparent on college campuses all over the country.

"They try to cover it up, and I don't think it's fair to the victim," she said. "I don't think that anyone should be getting away with it. And I think because they do, that a lot of people are getting away with it."

The task force also promised greater transparency.

"Colleges and universities can no longer turn a blind eye or pretend that rape and sexual assault doesn't occur on their campus," Vice President Joe Biden said in announcing the results of the task force's work.

A senior at the University of Rochester, Emily Sumner founded UR SEGway (Survivor Empowerment Group), to help victims of sexual assault.

"The fact that it's being talked about says a lot to survivors," Sumner said. "It makes people feel like it's something they can talk out about, like they're not alone."

Advocates praised the rare, high-profile attention being given to the issue, even as they acknowledged that much of the action required will still need to come from college administrators.

By mid-April, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights received 33 Title IX complaints related to colleges' handling of sexual assaults. Halfway through this fiscal year, that's already more than the officer received in all of 2013.

Karen Logsdon, Title IX deputy coordinator at the College at Brockport, said administrators have been waiting for this announcement from Washington, D.C.

"Students have had this negative experience across the nation, so I do think it's important the White House highlight this," Logsdon said.

Ahead of the curve, Logsdon said the College at Brockport has been proactive in its work to combat sexual assaults.

"We've already created a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy," Logsdon said. We've even hired an additional student conduct coordinator so we could support the complaints coming forward, so that we could address them promptly and effectively."

On the same day, the Education Department issued "questions and answers" that spelled out to colleges and universities and K-12 schools on how to handle circumstances under Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. The 1972 Title IX law is better known for guaranteeing girls equal access to sports, but it also regulates institutions' handling of sexual violence and increasingly is being used by victims who say their school failed to protect them.


Among the directives:

--A victim's sexual history cannot be brought up in a judicial hearing unless it involves the alleged perpetrator and that those working in on-campus sexual assault centers can generally talk to a survivor in confidence.

--A school is required to process complaints of alleged sexual violence that happened off campus to determine whether it occurred in the context of an education-related activity.

--In a K-12 setting, when a school learns that a teacher or other employee has sexually harassed a student, it is responsible for taking "prompt and effective" steps. 

 
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