Santa Barbara- S County

Federal Official Urges Sexual Assault Awareness At UCSB

White House Released Guidelines To Increase Pressure On College Campuses

Federal Official Urges Sexual Assault Awareness At UCSB

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The White House released guidelines to increase pressure on universities to more aggressively combat sexual assault at school campuses.

Fourteen schools across the country, including UC Santa Barbara, are being visited by Washington D.C. Officials.

It's the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act and UCSB was a recipient of a grant to help curb sexual violence on campus.

The Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights visited the school to find out how the money is being used and to raise awareness about the issue of sexual assault.

The Obama Administration said there is "no more turning a blind eye" when it comes to sexual violence on college campuses.

"These just aren't numbers. These are are friends, these are our daughters, these are our neighbors. these are our classmates," said Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday.

New guidelines from a White House task force are urging colleges to do more. At UCSB, a top federal official had a message for victims.

"The president has their back," said Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the new report, one in five women in college will experience sexual assault.

"The notoriety of those incidents brings sunlight to an issue that is all too prevalent on all of our campuses and it's something that this campus and every other needs to work on," said Lhamon.

"It feels almost like a relief that people are actually starting to pay attention," said Kelty Kauffman.

Kauffman is a student and the co-chair of Take Back the Night. The group tries to prevent sexual assaults and raises awareness. She feels the president's task force is a good first step especially after the February gang rape of a 19-year-old student.

That brutal crime made more people aware of the issue.

"As awful as the incident was, I'm glad that it brought enough attention to it to get people talking about it but it is something that is happening all year round and it's not something that just happens once a year," said Kauffman.

Lhamon heard about the gang rape during her talks with students and staff.

"I am desperately sorry for the students who had to experience what they did here at UCSB," she said.

On campus, students are starting to step up.

"One of the most interesting parts about the very high profile case is that a lot of students felt that this was their moment to step forward as an activist. So our office has been visited by so many students who want to know more about the issue, who want to know how they can affect this campus and their community," said Kim Equinoa, the assistant Dean of Students for Student Life.

Kauffman said it's not just college campuses that need a turn around.

"It's a cultural phenomenon. It's has to be something taught right at the beginning," she said.

"I hope very much that we will turn the tide so that all of our students and their faculties and their staffs can understand that college should not be a right of passage towards sexual violence and should instead be a place where students can learn and be safe at school," said Lhamon.

The grant was for $300,000 and it is being used to hire a full-time victim advocate, student interns, "as well as doing outreach and promotion around prevention programs," said Equinoa.

The assistant secretary said she is happy with UCSB's sexual assault prevention programs. She will visit Cal Poly Pomona Thursday.

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