President Barack Obama announced in a memo on Wednesday the formation of a White House task force to protect students from sexual assault, bringing governmental oversight to an issue campus leaders say is critical for the University.
The task force will be co-chaired by designees of the Office of the Vice President and the White House Council on Women and Girls, as well as various Obama cabinet members.
In the memo, Obama noted that about one in five women is a survivor of attempted or completed sexual violence while in college, and a substantial number of men suffer similar crimes as well. Obama called the prevalence of such crimes at America’s institutions “both deeply troubling and a call to action.”
The task force will aim to provide institutions with evidence-based practices for preventing and responding to rape and sexual assault, and will attempt to ensure universities comply fully with their legal obligations to prevent and respond to such crimes.
Summer Steib, director of the LSU Women’s Center, said the issue of sexual assault at LSU and other universities is “absolutely” big enough to justify federal intervention.
Within the past four months, LSU has experienced at least two publicized episodes of sexual violence. In October 2013, LSUPD arrested a 21-year-old for allegedly raping his ex-girlfriend in her dorm room, and in December, an Atlanta man was arrested for allegedly raping a woman inside a portable toilet on the University’s campus during the football game against Texas A&M.
Racheal Hebert, executive director of Baton Rouge’s Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response organization, or STAR, said the number of sex crimes on the University’s campus could be even higher than recorded, estimating that only 40 percent of survivors report to the police.
STAR offers individual and group counseling for survivors of rape and sexual assault and provides a 24-hour hotline for them as well.
“Sometimes the survivors are attacked by someone in their classes,” Hebert said. “It can be very intimidating to reveal their experiences, and sometimes they suffer social consequences.”
One of the University’s main efforts to combat sexual assault is the Lighthouse Program, which, according to the Student Health Center’s website, is “committed to providing confidential, nonjudgmental and appropriate support services for all sexual assault survivors.”
The Lighthouse Program trains faculty and staff to become Lighthouse Advocates.
Steib said potential advocates attend a training session during the summer where various campus and community experts come to talk about some of the dynamics and trends surrounding gender-based violence.
Steib and other advocates have decals on their office doors or windows letting students know they are affiliated with the Lighthouse Program.
“If students have experienced some form of gender-based violence, they know that you’re someone that they can go to who can help them navigate the various help options here on campus,” Steib said.