Justice News

Deputy Attorney General Cole Delivers Remarks on the White House Task Force Protecting Students from Sexual Assault
United States
Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Good afternoon.  It’s an honor to be a part of this unprecedented effort to address campus sexual assault.  In January, when President Obama, with the help of Vice President Biden, established the “White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault,” the Department of Justice enthusiastically joined the effort.  As the parent of a daughter who graduated from college just a few years ago, I understand the importance of ensuring that campuses are safe and welcoming learning environments. 

As we just heard from Tina [Tchen], the statistics about campus sexual violence make clear that the problem is urgent and the consequences can be devastating.  This is not just an education issue, it is also a criminal justice issue. 

We know the majority of rapes are committed by a small number of perpetrators, and we know that both schools and law enforcement struggle to investigate and adjudicate these crimes.  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.  Only 2% of college students who suffer sexual assault while incapacitated, and only 13% of other college students who are rape survivors, report the crime.

The Department of Justice is devoting significant resources to address the problem and build on our work in this area over the last two decades. This year, our Office on Violence Against Women – also known as OVW – will award nearly $400 million more in grants to provide states, tribal governments, educational institutions, and victim service providers with resources to address sexual assault and domestic violence.

OVW also is launching a multi-year initiative to evaluate prevention programs, victim services, and campus law enforcement training to ensure that victims are treated in a manner that is sensitive to what they have been through.  This is a critical part of encouraging a victim to come forward and report an assault so we can hope to stop the next one before it happens.  In addition, OVW is developing an online resource hub to share best practices with campuses across the country.   

This is truly a Department-wide initiative, and OVW is joined by a variety of Justice Department components working together to provide training, technical assistance, and information-sharing.  Because campus sexual assault can be a form of discrimination based on sex, and a violation of a student’s civil rights, the Department’s Civil Rights Division is addressing sexual assault by vigorously enforcing civil rights laws.  Along with other components in the Department, it is partnering with the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide guidance to schools in designing the best policies and practices to protect students’ civil rights.

Together, with members of the Task Force, the Department is working to prevent violence and support survivors by increasing public awareness.  Earlier this month, I participated, along with fellow administration colleagues, in a nationwide university tour to raise awareness of campus sexual assault and to join with the schools in this effort.  Learning first-hand from universities administrators, their students, their campus law enforcement, and their support networks, only served to solidify the need for an urgent, bold, and comprehensive response.

And while the federal government has an important role to play, we recognize that the government cannot solve the problem alone.  To succeed, we must not only capitalize on the expertise of, but also provide training and support to local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices, the courts, and victim services providers so they can effectively participate in the effort to combat to sexual assault. 

It will be no small feat, but we ultimately must change the culture on campuses and in communities, so that everyone understands that sexual assault is never acceptable. 

And to truly make the most of the national spotlight cast by the President and the Vice President, we must do more than raise awareness.  We must transform awareness and advocacy into action, and this Task Force and the Department of Justice have begun to do just that.  We have no choice but to commit ourselves to strengthening programs and services to protect students from incidents of sexual assault -- not just for the students enrolled today -- but for students in future generations as well.   The Attorney General and I are extremely proud of the fact that the Department Justice is a part of this critical work. 

Updated September 17, 2014