When I wrote the Violence Against Women Act more than 20 years ago, my goal was to make violence against women unacceptable in any circumstance. But when I introduced the bill in June 1990, there was immediate resistance. Some critics argued domestic violence was a “private family matter,” while others claimed that abused women brought it on themselves. We’ve come a long way since those days, but make no mistake — we have a long way to go. In the over two decades since the Violence Against Women Act became law, we have made great progress in reducing abuse. But we haven’t yet truly changed the culture to the point where no man believes he has a right to raise his hand to a woman and no woman ever asks herself what she did to deserve it. We’re still working on that — together. And I need your help.
When I was a U.S. senator, I heard thousands of hours of testimony from women who had been raped or battered. Women came forward with terrifying stories of violence at the hands of boyfriends, husbands, acquaintances. Even worse, they blamed themselves for what happened and others blamed them too. Police officers and even family members suggested they must have done something to cause it. People asked: “What was she wearing? Why was she out at night? Why didn’t she just leave?” I wrote the act to change all that, and in many critical ways, we have succeeded. Domestic violence has dropped by 63 percent. We have established more than 2,000 rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters. We set up a national hotline that has answered more than 3 million calls. Laws have been passed at the state level to better protect victims.
But despite all this progress, we haven’t made enough change in the lives of young women. When I became vice president, I reviewed the latest studies and was heartbroken to learn that teens and women in their 20s still face high levels of dating violence and sexual assault. Intimate partner violence is most likely to occur before the victim has reached her 25th birthday, and 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in her college career. When I read this data, I knew that we had to act.
First, we sent guidance to colleges and universities about their responsibilities under federal law to respond to and prevent sexual assault. This guidance became a blueprint for students too, because it gave them the tools to hold their schools accountable. Then, I reached out to college students to ask what they needed to feel safe on campus. I got thousands of responses and overwhelmingly they said two things: Get men involved, and change the culture that allows sexual assault to happen in the first place.
That’s why I launched It’s on Us with President Barack Obama in 2014. We wanted to make it clear that everyone — and I mean everyone — from the president of the university, to the dean of students, to the coaches, to the students themselves, has the responsibility to speak up. We called on men to step in, at a bar, at a party, in a dorm room, or anywhere they might see a woman being targeted for sexual assault, especially if she is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol or for any other reason is not able to consent. In my view, men’s silence when they see this happening is complicity. We also know that sexual violence happens in LGBTQ communities too. It’s on Us is about changing the culture for everyone.
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