(CNN) — After she was raped at Harvard, Madeleine Smith said that in her pursuit of justice she encountered people with good intentions who could not help her.
One in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college, according to the National Institute of Justice, and Smith is not the only victim who has been stonewalled by what she called “archaic and misinformed policies.”
Vice President Joe Biden, joining her Tuesday at an event at the White House on sexual assault on college campuses, said “We are never going to solve this epidemic until we get men involved.”
In a video montage, Hollywood actors Benicio del Toro, Daniel Craig, Steve Carell, Seth Myers and Dule Hill join President Barack Obama and Biden to encourage men to be part of the solution for a new public service announcement on sexual assault that will air in movie theaters this May.
Biden said that in the neighborhood where he came from, “if a man raised his hand to a woman you had the job to kick the crap out of him.”
According to the “1 is 2 Many” campaign, which is coordinating the PSA release with the White House, young women ages 16 to 24 experience the highest rates of sexual violence at the hands of someone they know, so publicly announcing to Americans that rape is wrong, and a crime, is necessary.
“If she doesn’t consent — or can’t consent — it’s rape; it’s assault,” says del Toro in the PSA.
“It’s a crime. It’s wrong,” says Steve Carell.
But it’s more complicated than that. In Smith’s case, there were “definite good guys,” the people at Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, and “definite bad guys,” her attacker and the Harvard “faculty that gamed the system in order to support him.” The real issue, harder to pin down, said Smith, is everyone else “who fell somewhere in between.”
The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault first alerted schools about their responsibilities to survivors of sexual violence in 2011. Under Title IX, schools had to address sexual violence in order to provide equal access to education. Schools failing to do so, like Tufts University, have been publicly cited.
Now, the administration is highlighting the importance of having confidential advocates on college campuses. The hope is to clarify that not everyone on college campuses has a duty to report. Otherwise, says the task force, “a survivor quickly loses control over what happens next,” a critical issue for advocates like Smith who emphasize the importance of returning control to survivors.
The task force Tuesday called for further training, saying “insensitive or judgmental comments — or questions that focus on a victim’s behavior (e.g., what she was wearing, her prior sexual history) rather than on the alleged perpetrators — can compound a victim’s distress.”
In encouraging women to report sexual assault, and men to speak up, Biden invoked the film “Deliverance.”
“I know what scene you remembered, right?” he asked. “How many of you would walk out of the woods and report ‘I’ve been raped?'”
Transparency and accountability are major issues the White House task force is set to deal with. No college wants to admit it has a problem, but, paradoxically, those schools with the highest numbers may actually be taking the problem seriously because they have systems in place that allow students to file complaints.
Smith Tuesday highlighted how hard it is to report a sexual assault.
“I want to share what it is like when your dad answers the phone, and you have to find a way to tell him that the one thing he never wanted to happen to his little girl has happened,” she said.