Vice President Biden spoke to college administrators, chancellors, and student body presidents in a conference call Monday, the latest push in the White House’s ‘It’s On Us’ campaign to try and end sexual assault on college campuses.
“I’m calling about the need for there to be a climate change and a culture change on our campuses, which makes it clear early on that sexual assault violence, rape without consent, sex without consent, will simply not be tolerated on any campus in America,” Biden said.
But when the Obama administration leaves office in five months, the future of these efforts will likely either fall to either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump. How do these presidential candidates each plan to address the issue?
The stakes are high: one-in-five women and one-in-71 men experience sexual assault in their lifetime. A study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests women between the ages of 18 and 24 are at the highest risk of sexual assault compared to all other age groups.
Hillary Clinton’s proposal
Clinton addresses sexual assault on her website, stating her plan to end campus assaults is guided by three core principles:
1. Provide comprehensive support to survivors;
2. Ensure a fair process for all because “many who choose to report sexual assault in the criminal justice system fear that their voices will be dismissed instead of heard.” During Biden’s conference call on Monday, he recalled a woman by the name of Marla Hanson, who had been severely attacked with razors after a dispute over money and refusing advances by her landlord in 1986.
“When it went to trial, the judge actually asked her how short was her skirt. It’s a cultural problem here, folks,” Biden said.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 20 percent of students did not report an incident of sexual assault for fear of retaliation. And another 26 percent did not file a report, because they felt it was a personal matter.
3. Increase prevention efforts with education programs, perhaps similar to Obama and Biden’s ‘It’s On Us‘ campaign that works with colleges to address the issue.
Clinton unveiled her plan in September, telling a rally in Iowa that “as president, I’ll fight to make sure every campus offers every survivor the support she needs and will make sure those services are comprehensive, confidential, and coordinated.” The release of the plan was paired to the posting of an online video featuring the Democratic candidate saying “we’re with you” to survivors of sexual assault.
Donald Trump’s proposal
Donald Trump’s campaign has not released any detailed statements or proposals on the issue.
However, the Republican Party’s platform, approved during the convention in Cleveland that nominated Trump for the presidency, does take a stance on the issue. Trump’s campaign has expressed support in the past for the platform at large.
On the topic of campus sexual assault, the document begins by calling it “a terrible crime” and commending the “good-faith efforts by law enforcement, educational institutions, and their partners” to address it.
The platform goes on to call for reports of sexual assault to be investigated “by civil authorities and prosecuted in a courtroom, not a faculty lounge,” criticizing colleges for investigating crimes reported on their campuses, which has drawn scrutiny. It also lambasts the “Administration’s distortion of Title IX to micromanage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse,” a reference to the Obama administration’s interpretation of a 1972 education law to influence policy changes at colleges cracking down on campus sexual assault.
Trump has also in the past questioned Clinton’s ability to address sexual assault by referencing Bill Clinton’s affairs. “She was an unbelievably nasty, mean enabler,” he charged during a rally in May, “and what she did to a lot of those women is disgraceful.”
Later that month, the Republican candidate released a video captioned “Is Hillary really protecting women?” featuring unidentified soundbites accusing Bill Clinton of sexual assault.
We reached out to the Trump campaign for comment, but did not hear back immediately.
Sexual violence in the 2016 election conversation
“Starting early in the campaigns, the NSVRC has tried to bring this into the conversation and are really wanting to hear it be prioritized in those political discussions early on,” said Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, or NSVRC.
Among the ways the NSVRC and others have pushed for awareness and action on the issue has been with the hashtag #TalkAboutSA, (or talk about sexual assault) tweeted during the presidential debates, calling for candidates to better outline plans to reduce the incidents of sexual assault on college campuses.
Robin Kaler, associate chancellor at the University of Illinois, said she would like to see the topic of student safety be on the top of the candidates lists, “It’s really important.”
The University of Illinois implanted the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign in 2014. It’s been a vital tool, but improving the culture is a major hurdle, Kaler said.
“We’ve found in a climate survey that students at Illinois, for example, know if they report to the university that they’ll get help,” she said. “They don’t feel comfortable going to an authority figure. First thing is going to a friend. How do we make sure that your friend knows how to be compassionate, how to connect you to those resources? First step is awareness, that this is something that can happen to me, this is something that can happen to my friend.”
The NSVRC is also open to helping both Trump and Clinton further shape their policy proposals on the issue, should they seek it out.
“One of our main roles is being a connector to experts,” Palumbo explained, “and a connector to the field of sexual violence advocates and preventionists. We would be happy to connect either candidate, or any political leader, looking to connect with experts, practitioners, and researchers when they’re delving into solutions.”