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Obama administration to make sexual violence in schools an act of discrimination, in addition to a crime

In this the first week of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, the U.S. Department of Education is introducing new guidelines for how universities should handle on-campus rape and sexual assault, reports The Washington Post.

On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden, during his address to the University of New Hampshire, is expected to announce that, for the first time, rape, sexual assault and sexual battery will be considered not just to be crimes, but to be acts of discrimination, similar to how sexual harassment is classified under federal law.

(Listen to Biden’s speech live here, at 11:45 a.m. EST.)

According to the Post, the initiative has been spurred by high numbers of sex offenses reported at colleges and public high schools in recent years. The Obama administration has cited 3,300 forcible sex offenses on college campuses in 2009. In 2007-2008, there were reportedly 800 rapes and attempted rapes and 3,800 incidents of sexual battery at public high schools.

Consequently, the administration is urging schools, particularly those that receive federal funding, to do more to prevent sexual violence on campuses and to act quickly when complaints arise.

Last week President Obama issued a “proclamation” in honor of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, wherein he declared:

Nearly one in six American women will experience an attempted or completed rape at some point in her life, and for some groups, rates of sexual violence are even higher. Almost one in three American Indian and Alaska Native women will be sexually assaulted. Young women ages 16 to 24 are at greatest risk, and an alarming number of young women are sexually assaulted while in college. Too many men and boys are also affected. With each new victim and each person still suffering from an attack, we are called with renewed purpose to respond to and rid our Nation of all forms of sexual violence.

Sexual assault is considered to be the most underreported violent crime in America, and criminal justice responses vary widely across our country. Some communities have developed highly trained, coordinated teams who understand the nature of sexual assault and can respond with compassionate understanding. In other places, victims hesitate to report these crimes because they fear the criminal justice system will respond with skepticism or fail to bring the perpetrator to justice. We must ensure our police, prosecutors, and courts treat victims with the seriousness and respect they need and deserve. We must do more to provide services that help victims recover from the trauma of sexual assault. And ultimately, we must prevent sexual assault before it happens.

Under Vice President Joe Biden’s leadership, my Administration is committed to engaging a broad spectrum of Federal agencies and community partners to prevent sexual assault, support victims, and hold offenders accountable. The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women is leading the Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative to improve the way sexual assault survivors are served. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding innovative prevention campaigns that engage bystanders in reducing sexual assault, and the Department of Education is working to combat sexual violence at schools and universities. We will continue to support new approaches that show promise in changing cultural attitudes toward sexual violence and preventing these crimes.

Read the rest of the proclamation here.

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