While it may end up a footnote compared to “Obamacare,” President Obama could do worse than to be remembered for telling survivors of sexual violence, “I’ve got your back.” But, as they say, he’s not just talking the talk, he’s walking the walk on this one.
Last week, the Obama administration released a report and announced a bold initiative to end rape on college campuses. You read that right: To end rape on college campuses. I daresay it is as bold a stance against rape culture as any president has ventured. In announcing the initiative Obama said, “To anyone out there who has ever been assaulted, you are not alone. You will never be alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back.” I just teared up a little bit.
And I’m not alone. The writers at Feministing are a bit verklempt as well:
As I’ve said before on this site, hearing the president address this issue that has effected so many of us personally is an emotional experience. When he says, “To anyone out there who has ever been assaulted, you are not alone. You will never be alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back,” I think he really means it. This is an incredible opportunity for all of us to ramp up our efforts to continue to change the conversation around rape prevention. …
Vice President [Joe] Biden words were particularly moving because he framed the conversation around what we all can do, including men, to combat gender-based violence, and directly addressed victim blaming. Essentially, the Vice President is echoing the message of “teaching men not to rape” that feminists have been saying since forever.
We have all heard the line about how it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village — and the village chief — to dismantle rape culture! Obama and Biden — two of the most powerful men in the world — standing up and saying that sexual assault is society wide issue, not just a “women’s issue,” and that survivors deserve to be respected — that’s HUGE!
You can see the full transcript of Biden and Obama’s speeches here. But this passage from Obama’s speech is what I hope starts to change people’s hearts about sexual violence:
I think that conviction and that passion brings us all here today — because this is not an abstract problem that goes on in other families or other communities. Even now, it’s not always talked about enough. It can still go on in the shadows. But it affects every one of us. It’s about all of us — our moms, our wives, our sisters, our daughters, our sons. Sexual assault is an affront to our basic decency and humanity. And for survivors, the awful pain can take years, even decades to heal. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime. And wherever it occurs — whether it’s in our neighborhoods or on our college campuses, our military bases or our tribal lands — it has to matter to all of us.
Because when a young girl or a young boy starts to question their self-worth after being assaulted, and maybe starts withdrawing, we’re all deprived of their full potential. When a young woman drops out of school after being attacked, that’s not just a loss for her, that’s a loss for our country. We’ve all got a stake in that young woman’s success.
When a mother struggles to hold down a job after a traumatic assault, or is assaulted in order to keep a job, that matters to all of us because strong families are a foundation of a strong country. And if that woman doesn’t feel like she has recourse when she’s subject to abuse, and we’re not there supporting her, shame on us. When a member of our military is assaulted by the very people he or she trusted and serves with, or when they leave the military, voluntarily or involuntarily, because they were raped, that’s a profound injustice that no one who volunteers to defend America should ever have to endure.
So sexual violence is more than just a crime against individuals. It threatens our families, it threatens our communities; ultimately, it threatens the entire country. It tears apart the fabric of our communities. And that’s why we’re here today — because we have the power to do something about it as a government, as a nation. We have the capacity to stop sexual assault, support those who have survived it, and bring perpetrators to justice.
Thank you sweet baby Jesus, Obama just mentioned sexual assaults in the military, on tribal lands, and upon girls in a matter of heartbeats. Because it’s all rape culture. Because you can’t rank a one-in-two (!) Native women will be raped statistic against 26,000 sexual assaults reported by women in the military. Because Jane Doe in Steubenville. Because Daisy in Maryville. Because of all the young people on college campuses who have taken their lives rather than face another day of torment from a perpetrator who will not be brought to justice. Because of the backlog of an estimated 400,000 unprocessed rape kits!
I could go on and on. And, indeed, I have at length here at The Siren. Because I’m a survivor of sexual violence and I deserve to be heard. Now you can’t say you don’t know anyone who has been the victim of sexual violence. You know me. Because survivors of sexual violence deserve the resources they need to heal and to get justice. Because, as Obama said, we aren’t talking about it enough — not by a long shot.
There are so many people on the ground doing this thankless work every day. I am grateful for them. And I am grateful for an administration that wants to be a part of the solution.
If you or someone you know needs help dealing with trauma related to sexual abuse or sexual assault, you can contact the 24-hour RAINN hotline at 800-656-HOPE.