The New York Times , January
Its rare to hear politicians at the national level discuss sexual violence. Its even rarer to hear them discuss it with real sensitivity. Yet President Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. managed exactly that last Wednesday, when they announced a task force on campus rape an area of particular concern. A 2007 study found that one in five women had been sexually assaulted in college.
The administration has addressed this issue before. In 2011, the Department of Educations Office for Civil Rights sent a letter to colleges explaining that sexual violence is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. And Mr. Bidens dedication to combating sexual assault is well established; he drafted the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. On Wednesday, though, the president and vice president distinguished themselves not just by what they said but by how they said it.
Our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, our grandmothers have every single right to expect to be free from violence and sexual abuse, Mr. Biden said. No matter what shes wearing, no matter whether shes in a bar, in a dormitory, in the back seat of a car, on a street, drunk or sober no man has a right to go beyond the word no. And if she cant consent, it also means no.
He added: Men have to step up to the bar here. Men have to take more responsibility. Men have to intervene.
Mr. Obama also emphasized male accountability: Weve got to keep teaching young men in particular to show women the respect they deserve and to recognize sexual violence and be outraged by it, and to do their part to stop it from happening in the first place.
Cynics might dismiss these remarks as focus-group pablum. But its no small thing for two men in power to speak inoffensively on such a delicate topic, avoiding victim-blaming and callousness.
Just over a year ago, Richard Mourdock of Indiana, who was then a Republican candidate for the Senate, described pregnancy resulting from rape as something that God intended to happen. And Representative Todd Akin of Missouri, another failed Republican Senate hopeful, said he thought abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape because if its a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
When it comes to sexual
violence, tone matters. A new report on rape and sexual assault from the White
House Council on Women and Girls notes that if men believe that their peers
accept abusive behavior, theyre less likely to intervene. Conversely,
when men speak out against abuse, other men are more likely to step in
to neutralize a risky situation and prevent an assault.
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