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Inside the White House's New Movement to Prevent Sexual Assault on College Campuses

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It’s hard enough for parents of high school seniors to provide guidance on the college-search basics, from location and academic rigor to class size and housing. But these days, there’s something just as important that needs to be addressed: the very real possibility of sexual assault on campus, and how seriously schools take the issue. Luckily, the White House is offering a primer on the topic for both students and parents, revealing the four vital questions to ask any college you’re considering.

STORY: ‘You Can Have It All, But Not All at Once:’ Words of Wisdom From Single Mom (And President Obama Confidant) Valerie Jarrett

The guide is the latest component of “It’s on Us”— a campaign the Administration launched last year to prevent sexual assault on college campuses — and one that’s been shared exclusively with Yahoo Parenting ahead of its official public release.

“One in five women are sexually assaulted by the time they leave college. One in five,” Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Men are sexually assaulted, too, but in fewer numbers. So we launched this campaign to raise awareness about what is an epidemic, and to try to end it.”

STORY: Four Critical Questions for the College Search

The campaign has so far involved a slew of campus activities — from bystander intervention programs to lessons aimed toward clearing up the definition of rape (sex without consent) — at more than 300 colleges and universities around the country. “But another component of it,” Jarrett says, “is what are the colleges and universities doing?” In order to aid parents and incoming freshman when it comes to gathering that information, “It’s on Us” suggests asking every school being considered the following questions:

  1. Does the college or university have a Title IX coordinator? This is the employee responsible for assuring the school is compliant with Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded school or activity. “They’re required by law to have one,” Jarrett explains. “It’s an indication that they take their responsibility to help to provide a safe environment very seriously.”

  2. What’s the college or university doing to prevent sexual assault from ever happening? “We don’t ever want it to ever happen on a campus,” she says, “and so ask them: What are you doing to ensure my child will be safe here, and free from sexual assault?”

  3. If it does happen, what is the college or university doing to make sure it’s properly taking care of the accuser — and the accused? In other words, what kind of a process do they have in place for that?

  4. What are they doing to help people who have been victims of sexual assault? In the event that the unthinkable does happen, know what types of student support services are provided.

“And if they can’t answer those four questions,” Jarrett advises, “well, find another college.”

Answers to these questions are most crucial for those entering their first or second year of college, as, most often, sexual assault occurs during a young woman’s freshman or sophomore year, usually by someone she knows, according to a fact sheet about “It’s On Us.” And only 13 percent of rape survivors report their assault. “The culture of violence and silence at our college campuses contradicts everything we stand for as a country,” the literature notes.

Allison Tombros Korman, executive director of Culture of Respect, a national campus assault prevention, support, and awareness organization, applauds the campaign’s latest efforts.

“I think these are really important questions to be asking, and that this is a solid list,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. She would add to the list, she says, by suggesting parents “dig a little deeper” on each question — asking for details about the approach to prevention education, for example, and about whether or not there’s a trained investigator in the event that assaults to take place. Also important to know: if victims receive not only long-term physical and psychological care, but supportive accommodations, such as a change in housing or the ability to finish out a class online.

“The more parents — and students — ask these questions, the more colleges and universities understand this is something they need to tackle head-on, and address transparently,” she tells Yahoo Parenting regarding the “It’s on Us” guide. “It reinforces to everyone that this is an issue to be taken seriously.”

(Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images)

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