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Student government works to prevent assault

| Wednesday, January 29, 2014

With an announcement made last Wednesday, Jan. 22, President Obama launched a new White House Task Force for protecting students nationwide against sexual assault.

Obama is giving the task force, comprised of U.S. Government administrative officials, 90 days to come up with sexual assault prevention and response suggestions for colleges. The group is also tasked with proposing ways to increase public awareness and possibly creating a reinforcement system of federal agencies for schools that do not confront this rising problem.

Prompted by a report made by the White House Council on Women and Girls, the President’s announcement states that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted at college, with only12 percent of assaults reported. The report said issues of sexual assault on college campuses related to drug and alcohol use should be especially examined because these substances have been found to have incapacitated many victims of sexual assault.

Obama said he sees a need for college to be a safe place that harbors individual growth and that “it’s not just these individuals and their families who suffer … our communities- our whole country — is held back.”

Notre Dame has already made strides independent of the federal government’s efforts,  attempting to address this serious concern.

Student body president Alex Coccia said Student Government’s “One is Too Many” campaign has been put in place to “bring the topic of sexual violence into mainstream consciousness and conversation and to develop an attitudinal shift that leads to a culture that understands sexual violence and actively works to prevent it.”

Coccia spoke on this topic before the National Campus Leaders Council, where he said Notre Dame can stand as an example for other schools and the task force to turn to when looking for solutions.

“The discussion nationally is crucial to our efforts on campus.  It shows that our efforts here at Notre Dame have the backing of the national conversation, and that no one is alone in their efforts to respond to and prevent sexual violence,” said Coccia.

The University administration has taken similar steps, creating the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and working directly with student government to develop policies directed toward preventing sexual assault, student body vice president Nancy Joyce said.

Joyce said she has worked on the sexual assault issue in the past and is in favor of this new initiative from the White House. Joyce said she believes the new task force will work in tandem with the system that Notre Dame has in place, bringing about increased awareness not just on campus but across the entire United States.

“The timing of President Obama’s announcement both enhances and supports our ‘One Is Too Many’ campaign,” Joyce said.

The approach Obama indicated is similar to that taken thus far by the University and Student Government, with some adjustments to the unique aspects of Notre Dame, Joyce said.

“President Obama mentioned that he hopes a stronger sense of peer pressure on college campuses will help to prevent sexual assault,” she said. “To some degree, this is the approach we are taking here at Notre Dame, but I think Alex and I are more focused on the idea that Notre Dame’s sense of community is what will enable us to take better care of each other.”

Coccia said he hopes the White House initiative will finally bring due attention to this increasing problem from the rest of the country. Coccia also said he is optimistic this announcement will stand as an important commitment by the White House to preventing sexual assault.

“Our goals nationally and on campus are to break that silence and ensure that men take responsibility in these efforts,” Coccia said. “This is so important in the residential structure at Notre Dame, where leaders in male dorms have the unique opportunity to set the standard of behavior for all classes within the dorm.”

As for the future of Notre Dame and the White House task force, Coccia said he believes promoting active bystander intervention, speaking out against trivializing sexual assault language and supporting the healing of survivors will be the main responsibilities of all those involved.

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