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State Of The (Millennial) Union: Campus Sexual Assault

By Vivian Nunez

Prior to President Obama’s last State of the Union address Politico published, “The Nation He Built” — the URL on this piece reading in part, “obama-biggest-achievements.”

In it is a meaty description by Michael Grunwald on all of President Obama’s ups—healthcare and student debt—and downs—lack of any significant changes to immigration reform or, up until last week, gun safety. In many ways the piece could have also read as a foreshadowing of the items that President Obama would and would not focus on during his final State of the Union address.

“But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead,” said President Obama as he addressed the nation last night. “I don’t want to talk just about the next year. I want to focus on the next five years, 10 years, and beyond.”

Unfortunately, for student activists and survivors of campus sexual assault, talk about the future did not include talk about It’s On Us, campus sexual assault reform, or even sexual violence in general. Women’s issues in specific were mentioned only subtly and only in a handful of occasions.

The lack of mention of campus sexual assault is noteworthy because since day one the issue has been an important one for the Obama administration and for the Millennials who support him. One of the first steps his administration took in addressing the issue was in releasing a letter by the Department of Education in 2011, known as the “Dear Colleague” letter, which ended up being a catalyst for major action across colleges and universities.

Since then President Obama has also established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in January 2014, partnered with Generation Progress to launch It’s On Us (an initiative spearheaded by Vice President Biden) and offered a vast number of grants to universities in an effort to curb the reality of sexual assaults on campuses.

Mentioning campus sexual assault during a time in which President Obama had the nation’s attention could have further emphasized the need to address this crisis. Today, one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their time in college. Referencing statistics like less the fact that less than five percent of those sexually assaulted ever report their rape, or the fact that of those sexually assaulted anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of survivors personally knew the person who sexually assaulted them, could have emphasized why Congress should continue to increase funding for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), whenever possible.

Because currently the OCR is understaffed, it has a backlog of at least 6,000 cases to get through, and it takes about 1,469 days to officially finish one open Title IX investigation.