Johnson Attends White House Sexual Assault Briefing

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Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson was at the White House today for the release of the first report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

Vice President Joe Biden presented the report, which lists a series of actions aimed at identifying the scope of sexual abuse on college campuses, preventing assaults, ensuring that schools respond effectively to reports of sexual assault, and improving and making more transparent the federal government’s enforcement efforts. President Obama established the task force in January.

Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden discusses the release of the first report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. (AP Photo)

“I’m so grateful to President Obama and Vice President Biden for taking on in this serious way the fight against sexual assault. It is especially gratifying that the work Dartmouth is doing is so clearly aligned with the government’s goals on this critical issue,” says Johnson. “The College has been working for more than a year to implement programs and processes like those recommended in the White House report, and we will continue our efforts to eradicate sexual assault and lead nationally on this problem.”

Dartmouth’s work on sexual assault prevention and response includes the creation of a comprehensive new sexual assault policy to take effect in June; the establishment of a resource center, the Center for Community Action and Prevention, that will open in the fall; community mobilization of more than 800 students through training in the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative (DBI), and plans to train up to 1,400 more in May; and national leadership on the issue, including hosting a major national summit on sexual assault in July.

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Johnson’s visit marks the third time Dartmouth leaders have been asked to take part in a White House event on sexual assault on college campuses. In February, President Phil Hanlon ’77 was one of nine university presidents invited to discuss the issue with Biden and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Johnson has previously been to the White House to participate in session with legal experts and researchers.

“It is clear that Dartmouth is at the forefront of higher education institutions working to prevent and respond to sexual assault and that the White House recognizes our exceptional work,” she says.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ’88 (D-N.Y.) was also in the audience at today’s press conference. Gillibrand, whom Biden called “one of the good guys” in the fight against sexual assault, has led the fight to reform how sexual assault is prosecuted in the military. She and a number of Senate colleagues have called for all schools to administer an anonymous survey on campus sexual assaults that would be published annually online.

“I will continue working with my colleagues to build a bipartisan coalition that will take legislative action mandating this survey among other much-needed reforms,” Gillibrand said yesterday.

Dartmouth will launch a campus climate survey this fall to assess a number of issues, including sexual assault. The White House Task Force report calls on colleges and universities to conduct such a survey and plans to explore options to require the surveys by 2016.

Today’s event included a panel discussion at which Johnson later said panelists commented on the importance of campus climate surveys to accurately gauge the incidence of sexual assault. The panel, including students from Georgetown University and the University of Virginia, a college administrator, and Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, and several other government officials, also discussed prevention and educational efforts, and confidential resources.

The task force report describes bystander intervention programs as “among those the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) found most promising” in preventing sexual abuse. Dartmouth students have for almost a year been receiving training in how to intervene through DBI, a program implemented with assistance from Jennifer Messina ’93, a clinical psychologist and nationally recognized expert in trauma and recovery from violence.

Messina is director of training and development for Green Dot etc., a Springfield, Va.-based consulting firm specializing in violence reduction strategies for communities and institutions. Green Dot is among the resources listed in the task force report.

In addition to DBI training on campus, a number of faculty and staff have participated in first responder training through the Sexual Assault Awareness Program. The training teaches people helpful approaches to supporting survivors of sexual assault.

“The Dartmouth community is fully engaged in combating sexual assault. But, as the task force report makes clear, there is still much work to be done,” Johnson says.

Biden today showed for the first time a public service video encouraging men to speak up and step in if they see someone in danger of being sexually assaulted. The video, featuring famous male actors, was launched in coordination with the White House’s 1 is 2 Many campaign and the White House Task Force. The video will be shown in movie theaters including on military installations.