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Vice President Biden speaks about the release of the first report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on April 29, 2014 in Washington, Tuesday, April 29, 2014 in Washington. The White House is urging schools to provide victims of sexual assault with a confidential, respectful way to report the crimes and seek treatment. / AP

WASHINGTON - Vice President Biden said on Tuesday that the USA's colleges and universities have a moral responsibility to "step up" efforts to prevent sexual assault on campuses.

Biden's remarks follow the White House Task Force to Prevent Students from Sexual Assault's release of a series of recommendations late Monday, which detail the administration's plan to improve reporting by universities and colleges of sexual assault incidents as well as bolster efforts to educate students about sexual and gender-based violence.

"I understand all the excuses and I understand all the rationale ... but colleges and universities can no longer turn a blind eye or pretend rape or sexual assault doesn't occur on their campuses," Biden said. "I understand that the good guys (that) report feel like they may be damaging the reputation of their schools. I get it. But it doesn't matter. We need to provide survivors with support and we need to bring perpetrators to justice."

The administration also announced that it would launch the website NotAlone.gov, where enforcement data will be published, and begin a push to require colleges and universities to conduct "climate surveys" to better understand how frequently incidents happen on campus but are not reported to authorities.

"I challenge every college and university, if they are really serious about protecting students, to conduct anonymous surveys," Biden said. "They have a moral responsibility to know what is happening on their campus."

Among other recommendations in the 20-page report are calls to train campus officials on how to respond to victims of sexual assault and reshape existing policies to provide victims with greater flexibility to speak confidentially with on-campus counselors.

In addition, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released a new guidance document on students' rights and schools' obligations under Title IX, which require colleges and universities that receive federal funds to investigate claims of sexual assault and provide a timely and impartial grievance procedure to resolve those claims.

Notably, the guidance extends Title IX protection for the first time to claims of discrimination based on gender identity.

"This guidance is crystal clear and leaves no room for uncertainty on the part of schools regarding their legal obligation to protect transgender students from discrimination," said Ian Thompson, an American Civil Liberties Union legislative representative. "The Office for Civil Rights must now take the next step and issue comprehensive guidance on Title IX and transgender students."

The White House also on Tuesday unveiled a public service announcement featuring Biden, President Obama and film and television actors Daniel Craig, Seth Meyers, Benicio Del Toro, Steve Carell and Dulé Hill. In the 60-second PSA, the men encourage other men to speak up and step in if they see someone in danger of being sexually assaulted.

Obama in January formed the task force as a bipartisan group of lawmakers and students who had lobbied the administration to embrace broad reform in policing how universities deal with sexual violence.

The survivor-led Know Your IX campaign said it was encouraged to see many of the group's demands - particularly its call for greater transparency - at the heart of the task force's report. But said "the changes will mean little until Title IX enforcement is finally given teeth."

Laura Dunn, a survivor and founder of the non-profit SurvJustice, said she was encouraged by the administration's call on universities to conduct climate surveys in 2015 and push to make the surveys mandatory in 2016.

But she did not feel enough had been done to make the federal government's investigations more transparent and to hold perpetrators and schools accountable. She noted that under new Department of Education guidelines schools under investigation for alleged Title IX violations would only be made available through a formal request to the Department.

"In other words, you can find out but you have to make the call," said Dunn, who became an advocate after she was sexually assaulted while studying at the University of Wisconsin. "And campus activists are getting really sick and tired of doing the federal government's jobs for them. When a school is being investigated, it should be publicly announced because you want every survivor who has ever been affected to feel free to come forward, and the only way they're going to know that is if it is made public."

Enforcement was another issue Dunn said was not adequately addressed in the report. As the Center for Public Integrity found in an investigation in 2009-10, perpetrators found to be responsible for sexual assaults are seldom given meaningful punishments as are schools found to be out of compliance with Title IX.

Typically, OCR enters into a voluntary resolution agreement with schools out of compliance that require policy changes.

"We want to see a consequence for assault," she said. "Offenders are getting away with it. Institutions are getting away with it. I'm sorry, but a voluntary resolution agreement only changes policies. It doesn't make a victim whole. It doesn't give them any remedies."

It remains to be seen how colleges will respond to the White House push for an overhaul in how it approaches sexual assaults involving students.

American Council on Education President Molly Corbett Broad said "it will take some time to study all that the task force" recommended. ACE is the leading organization representing college universities and presidents.

Sen. Claire McCaskiill, D-Missouri, said pushing colleges toward the mandatory survey is crucial to addressing the problem of sexual violence on campus, but suggested that she is bracing for resistance from some schools.

"I think there is a self-preservation thing here that we..quite frankly saw in the military," she said. "We've seen it in the Catholic church where there were people that were worried about covering things up, because of how it would look as opposed to exposing them to get to the bottom of it. That's what we're finding again."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Biden: Colleges must step up to prevent sexual assault

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