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President Obama Announces White House Task Force on Protecting Students from Sexual Assault

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February 4, 2014

By Ellen Wetmore and Scott Warner

On January 22, 2014, President Obama announced the creation of a White House Task Force on Protecting Students from Sexual Assault (Task Force). The President’s announcement was accompanied by a report issued by the White House Council on Women and Girls titled "Rape and Sexual Assault:  A Renewed Call to Action." The Report analyzes data about rape and sexual assault, more generally, but also focuses on what it calls the “particular problem” of sexual assault on college and university campuses. The Report points out that college students are especially at risk of sexual assault and emphasizes higher education institutions’ obligations under Title IX, the Clery Act, and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Within 90 days of the President’s January 22, 2014 Memorandum, the Task Force will submit proposals and recommendations to the President on a number of issues relating to sexual assault in the higher education setting. In addition, within one year of the Memorandum, the Task Force will provide a report on its implementation efforts. Task Force reports will then be provided on an annual basis thereafter.

The President’s Memorandum is the latest in a series of efforts by the federal government to address the issue of sexual assault in higher education. In 2010, the President issued his first “Call to Action,” which urged the federal government to take aggressive action against sexual assault. Then, in April of 2011, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a Dear Colleague Letter, which provided detailed guidance regarding Title IX requirements relating to alleged or suspected sexual violence. The OCR’s enforcement efforts since the Dear Colleague Letter have been extensive, and resolution agreements that have been reached as a result of OCR investigations consistently demonstrate that the agency expects institutions to take a very active role in both preventing and responding to sexual violence.

Finally, in 2013, Congress renewed the VAWA, which includes the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act). The SaVE Act adds new requirements to maintain compliance with the Clery Act. The requirements go into effect this reporting year (October 1, 2014). For more information regarding the VAWA and the SaVE Act, please see our June 4, 2013 FR Alert.

The President’s announcement comes at a time when efforts to combat the problem of sexual assault in higher education is a major focus of federal enforcement efforts, as well as news reports and grassroots student campaigns. The “Call to Action” and the President’s Task Force remind institutions to prioritize sexual assault prevention, and provides another strong incentive for institutions to review and update their policies and practices to ensure compliance with Title IX, the SaVE Act, and the Clery Act.

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