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Sexual assault gains local, national focus

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Students in the Peace Garden Wednesday take a pledge toward ending sexual assault during the handprint project. Jesse Franz / The Collegian

The White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault released its first report Tuesday, urging colleges to adopt more rigorous strategies in combating the crime on their campuses.

The task force, which was commissioned by President Barack Obama on Jan. 22, is part of a push by the White House to prioritize the issue — both in schools and the military.

“It’s not just a matter of passing laws or changing regulations, it’s a matter of changing cultures,” said Valerie Jarrett, chairwoman of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

The report called on colleges nationwide to conduct internal surveys of their students to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses — a practice that The White House hopes to legally mandate of all colleges by 2016.

The report also proposed a change of thought and new techniques in sexual assault protection.

“For too long, sexual assault prevention has been about women protecting their drinks, or taking self-defense courses, or making sure you only go out at night in groups,” said Tony West, associate attorney general.

“Now I’m not saying that precautions aren’t prudent. But that approach suggests that responsibility rests with survivors, and I think it lulls us too easily into a blame-the-victim attitude,” he said.

The Office on Violence Against Women also announced nearly $400 million additional in grants to public institutions to address sexual assault and domestic violence.

It is estimated that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, with freshmen and sophomores being the most vulnerable group. However, only 13 percent of college students who are raped reported the crime, making it one of the most under-reported crimes in America.

“Sadly, we never even hear about most campus sexual assaults because victims are often afraid to come forward, fear retaliation or blame themselves for what happened,” said James Cole, deputy attorney general.

Fresno State had seven reports of “forcible sex offenses” on campus from 2012-2013. But, due to the under-reported nature of the crime, the fact the university is a commuter campus and the lack of a formal internal survey of its students, the numbers may not reflect the true prevalence of the crime.

The release of the report came one day before two events at Fresno State which commemorated Sexual Assault Awareness Month on campus.

The Handprint Project saw hundreds of students come out to the Peace Garden Wednesday pledging to end sexual violence. Participants left their handprints and signaturesp on a piece of paper, publically displaying their pledge.

The play “Vagina Monologues” was also hosted on campus Wednesday, featuring women reading passages addressing feminine issues.

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