April 5th, 2011
11:26 AM ET
By CNN White House Producer Becky Brittain
WASHINGTON (CNN) – “Rape is rape is rape,” declared Vice President Joe Biden Monday at the University of New Hampshire, “And the sooner universities make that clear, the sooner we'll begin to make progress on campuses,” he said, announcing new guidance that will go to all K-12 schools, colleges and universities to address the growing number of sexual assaults.
Ayanna Pressley attended the event – and praised Vice President Biden and the Obama administration for speaking out.
It’s an issue the Boston City Councilwoman knows all too well. Pressley, 37, was a victim of sexual assault while she was a 19-year old college student at Boston University.
Like so many other victims, she was reluctant to report the crime at the time of the assault and along with other events happening in her life, it led to her dropping out of school.
One in five women report being sexually assaulted on college campuses and the large majority knew their attackers. The city councilwoman says she fit that statistic.
As she told her story at a recent city council meeting, Pressley said it was surprising how emotional she was in mentioning the incident years later. But she says she owes it to the millions of women like her who have been victims of rape on college and university campuses.
“I felt an obligation to the millions of women who suffer in silence and I wanted to put a face on the issue, so people cannot think about this abstractly,” she told CNN in an interview.
She believes making rape victims aware of their rights is important but changes should begin with changing college campuses.
“The larger issue is the culture of college- the drinking, the partying- there is a very low threshold for what is inappropriate behavior. It creates this environment that can be too tolerant and sometimes even hostile,” she said.
The White House is making new efforts to help prevent sexual violence on school campuses. A 19-page report released at the Biden event discusses efforts schools can take to prevent sexual violence but also gives direction in dealing with rape victims knowing their civil rights.
Vice President Biden said. “It's not sufficient to have criminal enforcement. We must at every single level of our society make clear the moral disapprobation of society at every level for such behavior.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that most schools would like to believe that they are immune from sexual assaults but this directive will help them address the issue of sexual violence on their campuses.
“We think the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities and K-12 schools want to do the right thing and they might not quite know how, may not have thought things all the way through and these issues are often tough ones for folks to put on the table,” Duncan said. “We are trying to be very clear, very transparent and our hope is through dissemination of the great information that we can significantly reduce the number of these incidents.”
Duncan added that reports of rape are underreported because victims grapple with a range of emotions from personal shame and guilt to weighing the risks of social isolation and judgment.
Pressley says the environment on campuses will improve with the partnership of college and university officials and government leaders.
“There’s much work that needs to be done to foster a culture and a climate on these campuses that says zero tolerance and a lot of that comes from raising consciousness and comes from education,” Pressley added.