The White House has launched a new initiative to tackle campus sexual violence - and it can't come soon enough.
"No means no even if you said yes at first and you changed your mind."
So said Vice President Joe Biden this week as he outlined plans to crack down on sexual assault and rape in schools and on university campuses. Speaking at the University of New Hampshire on Monday, he announced new guidance to help institutions deal with sexual violence and underline the legal obligations they have to try to prevent it.
The guidelines require every federally funded school to have and distribute a sex discrimination policy and make known its procedures for students to file complaints of sexual violence or discrimination. They will also be required to have a Title IX co-ordinator - overseeing implementation of the 1972 legislation which prohibits sexual discrimination by educational establishments.
It's Sexual Assault Activism Month and activist groups have gone into overdrive to raise awareness of the major problem of campus sexual violence. It is estimated that between 20 and 25 per cent of women experience sexual violence as students and recent studies have uncovered data which makes for uncomfortable reading - such as that "One in 12 college men admitted to committing acts that met the legal definition of rape".
"No means no if you're drunk or you're sober; no means no if you're in bed in a dorm or on a street," said the Vice President.
"The allocation of blame has been for too many centuries allocated in a way that's totally irrelevant and inappropriate."
He went on to underline the need to empower women and also to encourage men have to speak out against sexual violence.
"You guys have an absolute obligation as men to speak up.You want to measure your manhood? Measure it based on the gumption you have to speak up."
We can all think of more than one high-profile case involving campus sexual violence - and the disappointment at the way it was handled. Last year video footage of Yale students pledging the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity marching by women’s dorms marching “no means yes, yes means anal.” hit the web. The fraternity's president was forced to apologise but the incident left many horrified that more wasn't done to combat behaviour like this.
Clearly, aiming chants about anal rape at the women you attend university with just isn't acceptable whatever way you look at it. But it's only now that federal civil rights officials are looking into complaints that the university is a 'sexually hostile environment' and that it has failed to deal adequately with various incidents.
If this is found to be true, Yale may lose over $500 million of funding for failing to comply with Title IX.
And it's not the only institution facing criticism over its response to incidents of sexual assault and rape on campus, which are underreported and often badly dealt with. Several organisations and blogs are doing great work promoting VAW activism at colleges across the US, keeping track of incidents and the numerous campaigns started up in an effort to change the way they are dealt with by both the universities themselves and the justice system.
Incidents like the De Anza rape case - where it is alleged that a 17-year-old girl was gang raped by nine men, some of whom were De Anza College students. Despite the testimonies of the victim and three women who happened upon the attack and helped her, it was decided that the case would not go to trial due to 'insufficient evidence' - after which the internet was awash with victim-blaming.
After it has come to light that some key physical evidence was ignored, the case is being heard in a civil court and the witnesses are keen to see a better outcome. In a local newspaper editorial, they wrote:
"Instead of seeing justice served, we saw justice denied. We first witnessed a crime and then witnessed the justice system completely fail the people it is supposed to protect."
After a rash of unpleasant incidents which show that there is obviously a serious problem with a culture of sexual violence on campuses, Biden's passion to see change has impressed many. We can only hope that universities have listened and are ready to do more to help.
- SAFER Campus on Tumblr
- Jessica Valenti: 'It's time to stop ignoring (or hiding) campus assault cases'
Hannah Mudge writes about all things news and feminism-themed for BitchBuzz. You can also read her blog, We Mixed Our Drinks or follow her tweets as @boudledidge.
Image via the barackobamadotcom Flickr