Policy/Biz

'It's On Us' Campaign White House's Latest Effort To Root Out Sexual Violence On College Campuses

Jon Hamm
The White House's latest campaign says it's on all of us to stop sexual assault. YouTube / screenshot

It’s been 20 years since President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act into law — a law current vice president Joe Biden played a prominent role in. This act put a face on what Biden has referred to as a “God awful abusive power,” one that one report showed 21,000 women are subjected to in a single week. Yet, as helpful as it’s been to unmask domestic violence as a private matter (it’s not), one in 10 women ages 16 to 24 still reports having been sexually assaulted, with one in five of those women being sexually assaulted during college. An unwavering statistic — the very one that serves as the foundation for the White House’s latest campaign, It’s On Us,

In the same vein as their first campaign called 1 is 2 Many, "It’s On Us" aims to educate both college students, their higher educators, and any and everyone else on what it will take to stop sexual assault. As its name suggests, it’s on us to step in, to take responsibility, to raise awareness, to stop asking the wrong questions and, most importantly, to stop blaming the victim. “It’s on all of us to change the culture that asks the wrong questions,” Biden said in a live press conference. “It is never the right question for the woman to ask ‘What did I do?’ Never. Get this straight. The question is, ‘Why was that done to me — and will someone do something about it?’”

The press conference’s opening remarks were given by a young woman named Lily Jay who endured sexual assault during her freshman year of college. While Lily conceded how empowering and important it is for victimes to use their experience as a way to protect others, this type of activism, as she personally found, doesn’t reclaim college. Recalling rape always hurts, she said — “that’s the terrible irony of sexual assault activism.”

What did finally help Jay take back her college experience? Hearing her friends and professors say she didn’t need to stay hurt in order for them to take her seriously, which freed her to mourn her freshman self. “Allies do more than prevent future assault,” she said. “They help carry the heavy truth that colleges can, and should be, safer.”

There’s a powerful PSA making its way around the Internet, in which celebrities, such as Jon Hamm, Kerry Washington, Questlove, and Connie Britton, dub themselves allies, advocating for the end of sexual assault. Not featured in the video are the student leaders from over 200 colleges and universities that have signed up to take action, too. Scroll through the hashtag #ItsOnUs, and users will see the thousands more who are on board with this campaign.

 

 

University of Michigan tweet Universities tweet support for 'It's On Us' campaign Twitter

As both Biden and Obama said in the press conference, men are a primary target of this campaign. Violence is not a women’s issue, Biden said, but a man’s issue. There are “a vast majority of men who are decent, honorable, and want to do the right thing.” So, he continued, to the guys out there, step up. Biden and Obama pleaded for them to be responsible, to intervene, as they have an obligation to make a pariah of the students who are sexually violent.

Obama said it best when he noted Biden has an “unmatched passion” to this cause. And we agreed with Jezebel when they wrote Biden hands-down had the best response to the National Football League’s scandal concerning (now) former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice. Yet, there's no denying the two together have long made sexual violence on campus a priority of the administration.

“As far as we’ve come, from sports leagues to pop culture, to politics, our society still does not sufficiently value women,” Obama said. “We still don’t condemn sexual assault as loudly as we should […] It’s on us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault.”

When your president tells you his administration will go campus by campus, city by city, and state by state until everyone understands sexual assault, as well as the value of women, it’s hard not to feel optimistic. Yet, with the NFL’s domestic violence scandal looming in the background, news anchors jesting the message of the video where a woman is punched is to “take the stairs,” and college students like Emma Sulkowicz having to take it upon themselves to get their rapists expelled, we can’t help but wonder: How much, if at all, will this campaign help?

Medical Daily posed the question to Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at California State University in Los Angeles. While she’s glad the White House is committed to sexual assault activism, as a clinical psychologist, she believes the chances of success are 50/50.

“Men know partner violence is bad [one in five men recently admitted to committing intimate partner violence], but so many other variables drive why it happens: alcohol, coming from a violent home, belief that there will be minimal consequences, a culture of violence in film, TV, psychological and psychiatric variables, and economic factors, or assumptions around power and privilege,” Durvasula said. “Once it begins, violence can maintain in a relationship for reasons of shame, fear, and economic imprisonment. It is a cycle.”

The drawbacks of the campaign are that its main focus is prevention, which, yes, is totally and completely necessary. But, Durvasula added, college campuses are unique in that they tend to be the place where everyone lets their guard down. In which case, this prevention needs to be instilled in men and women as early as elementary school, and men and women need to receive additional education on choosing their partners, as well as the first signs their relationship may take a violent turn.

“Love is not about rescuing someone,” Durvasula said. “That is yet another part of the conversation. Abusive relationships don't just happen in a day. It is a slow process of habituation and violence becoming a ‘new normal,’ and since it is also about isolation, the victim doesn't have people against whom to check her experience.”

Women who experience dating violence, as cited by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, are at an increased risk for developing a mental disorder, as well as more likely to binge drink, fight, and smoke. And a separate study from the Harvard School of Public Health found female victims of dating violence are significantly more likely to become victims of sexual assault, going back to that vicious cycle Durvasula mentioned. Though it doesn't matter which study you look at, which report or survey you turn to, each statistic surrounding sexual assault is more harrowing than the last, for everyone involved.

Which no, isn't just straight women. Straight, gay and lesbian women, and men can also be victims of sexual assault. The harsh truth is that every student can potentially be a victim or a perpetrator "until we start teaching girls and then women to become financially autonomous and empowered by law enforcement, the justice system, and the culture at large to speak out when they are harmed. Until we make this a conversation we start having with kids. Until we stop being entertained by imagery of women being harmed," Durvasula said.

Because until those shifts take place, important and valuable campaigns, like 'It's On Us,' will not be enough. "It will be equivalent of treating a symptom rather than a disease; of boiling water instead of digging a well," Durvasula said. 

"It's On Us" is one of the tools needed in truly ending sexual assault. One very important tool.

Loading...