Obama is giving the task force of administration officials 90 days to come up with recommendations for colleges to prevent and respond to sexual assault, increase public awareness of each school's track record and enhance coordination among federal agencies to hold schools accountable if they don't confront the problem. [...]Such an effort is important and overdue, but also a minefield. Colleges already try to cover up rape on campus in order to evade reporting requirements that might dissuade future students from attending; if there's a crackdown they will seek other ways to make their records look better, and, because it's difficult, actually cutting down on sexual assault is unlikely to be the main thing they try. Also, any discussion of how campus drinking or drug culture—or anything else—are factors in sexual assault has to focus squarely on rapists, not victims. A woman doesn't get raped because she had a drink, a woman gets raped because a man—perhaps under the influence of alcohol or drugs, perhaps not—decided to be a rapist.
The report also declares that the criminal justice response to sexual assault is too often inadequate and lays out a goal of increasing arrest, prosecution and conviction rates without any specific targets. The report blames police bias and a lack of training to investigate and prosecute sex crimes for low arrest rates and says the federal government should promote training and help police increase testing of DNA evidence collected from victims.
As in the military, where Obama is also calling for greater focus on sexual assault prevention, the response to sexual assault at colleges is often more about what leaders think will be best for the institution, not about justice. That has to change—but by definition institutional cultures of self-protection are hard to change.