Justice News

Associate Attorney General Tony West Delivers Remarks at Department of Justice’s 2014 Nationwide Tour to Raise Awareness of Sexual Assault on College Campuses
United States
Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thank you, Reverend Garanzini, for that kind introduction.  I am so proud to be here at Loyola today, one of the first stops on a nationwide tour other senior Obama Administration officials and I are taking to raise awareness about campus sexual assault and domestic violence.  Thank you for being such gracious hosts.

I also want to acknowledge and thank U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon for being here today.  He's not only the great leader of our U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago; he's also raising the bar for all of us who like to think we're runners—he is fresh off of running the Boston Marathon.  And he turned in a pretty impressive time, too.  Zach, thanks for being here.

And I am also pleased that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan could join us here today.  She has been a great partner in other areas of mutual interest, and I am grateful for this opportunity to work with her on this very important issue.

As Reverend Garanzini mentioned, I am the Associate Attorney General of the United States, the number three official at the Justice Department.  And throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to hold many titles.  But they all pale in importance to the roles I play as the father of an intelligent and talented daughter; as the older brother of two amazing sisters and brother-in-law to a third; as an uncle, a son and a husband. 

And when I think of these amazing women and girls who make up the constellation of my life, and then think about the statistics about violence against women which many of us know all too well –

• that nearly 20% of undergraduate women report they have experienced sexual assault since entering college, most often during the first two years of school;

• that six percent of college-age men report they have experienced a sexual assault, a number we know is underreported;

• or that LGBTQ youth experience intimate partner and sexual violence at rates equal to or higher than those of heterosexuals.

When I hear facts like that, I'm reminded that this isn't about some abstract policy debate.

This is about each of us.  It's about our family members.  It's about our friends.  And here, where nearly two-thirds of the student body is comprised of college-aged women who bear the highest risk of sexual assault, this issue is personal. 
So I’m particularly pleased to have the chance to engage with you on this topic today.  And while I’ll take a moment to tell you a little more about why I’m here today, the truth is, I’m much more interested in hearing from you, about the innovative work you are doing as a community to help increase awareness and prevent sexual violence on campus.

This effort that is taking so many of us around the country this week is part of an overall initiative by this Administration -- an effort that includes the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault -- to talk with students and school administrators about how we can build a future where domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking and teen dating violence are eradicated.

And this is a particularly significant time to do this as this year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act – an act that wouldn't have happened had it not been for the leadership of Vice President Biden who, as a member of the Senate 20 years ago, shined a national spotlight on the tragic reality of violence against women.

And over the last two decades, we've made important progress, getting resources devoted to stemming the tide of abuse that plagues too many women's lives. 

At the Justice Department, through our Office on Violence Against Women, we've awarded over $5 billion in grants to states, tribal governments, educational institutions, and victim service providers over the last two decades, and this year we'll award nearly $400 million more to provide communities and campuses with resources to help address sexual assault and domestic violence.

So we’re meeting with students and faculty like you – many of whom are working every day to fight intimate partner and sexual violence on campus and to train young people about how to prevent and report this type of activity. 

And because we know that a holistic approach is essential, our tour is highlighting Justice Department grantees like Loyola who have invested in developing coordinated community response teams to comprehensively address sexual assault on their campus.

You know that a coordinated community response -- one where we're building partnerships with student groups, campus police, community victim services organizations, campus ministries and school officials -- that's what's required if we're going to turn the tide on this

You know that a comprehensive response is necessary because a survivor of dating violence or sexual assault may continue to live in fear, especially if the perpetrator lives in the same dormitory or attends the same classes as the survivor.

A survivor may fear being harassed or disbelieved, or being identified -- college campuses are often pretty tight-knit communities, after all.

Or a survivor may feel guilt, like somehow the assault was her or his fault.  We have to change that perception.  Campus rape is not a misunderstanding, or something that can be minimized because the perpetrator targeted the victim because he or she was drunk or drugged. 

Sexual assault and rape are crimes, period.  No one deserves it, no one asks for it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

So we have to make sure schools have a proactive approach to the prevention of sexual assault on campus, one that's grounded in effective, clear policies. 

We have to make sure that survivor assistance is easily accessible and survivor support is sustained, since campus rape can often leave individuals devastated and their educational
future derailed.

We have to make sure that the disciplinary process that deals with offenders is fair, consistent and certain, and that it clearly communicates zero-tolerance for sexual assault and dating

And young men have an important role to play here.  We know that most men on our college campuses want to be part of the solution.  But we also know that for too long, sexual assault prevention has primarily been about women protecting their drinks, taking self-defense courses, or making sure you only go out at night in groups.  I'm not saying precautions aren't prudent, but that approach suggests that responsibility rests with survivors and leads too easily into a "blame the victim" attitude.

So we need to shift our thinking.  We need to do more to encourage our young men to explore healthy masculinity; to explore what consent means; to talk about how men can be strong without being violent. 

We need to teach men and women how to be active bystanders -- how they can take action in safe and positive ways to prevent violence from happening. 

And we need to support those men who are survivors themselves and who summon the courage to report sexual assault and reach out to other survivors by telling their stories.

And that is why I'm so impressed by what you've done to be holistic in your response. You've used cutting-edge technology to deliver outreach and educational information to students,
faculty, and staff. 

You've provided ongoing training on dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking to Campus Police and Campus Disciplinary Boards. 

And you've cultivated important relationships with community partners like the YWCA Evanston Northshore, Rape Victim Advocates, and Illinois Attorney General Madigan's office.

Your efforts underscore the importance of ensuring that the entire campus community is educated about sexual assault, that each of us is invested so there's broad engagement and shared responsibility around this issue.

So I am eager to hear from you, about what you're doing, about the challenges you're facing, and about how we can work together to overcome those challenges.

Thank you for hosting me here today.

Updated September 17, 2014