President Obama on Wednesday announced a new task force that will examine ways to better prevent sexual assaults on college campuses, warning that the scourge of sexual violence "threatens our families, our communities, and ultimately our country."
Obama is giving the panel three months to gather specific recommendations on how universities can better respond to sexual assaults, noting that an estimated one in five women is the victim of sexual violence during their time enrolled in college.
Obama is also asking the task force to provide recommendations on how the federal government can track and promote how well individual schools are responding to the issue, and punish universities that fail to confront the issue.
"When a young woman drops out of school after being attacked, that’s not just a terrible loss for her, it’s a loss for our country," Obama said.
The president also encouraged students to pressure their university administrators to adopt programs to help prevent sexual assaults and help the victims of rape. And, Obama said, parents, educators, and employers all had a role to play in making clear that sexual assault was unacceptable.
"I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure in terms of how they are supposed to behave and treat women… We need to keep teaching young men to show women the respect they deserve, to recognize sexual violence and be outraged by it," Obama said.
The president also told those who had been sexually assaulted that he had their "back."
"We need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted—you are not alone. You will never be alone," Obama said.
Before signing a memo establishing the task force, Obama met in the Oval Office with Cabinet secretaries and senior administration officials to discuss the issue. [Read the memo below.] The White House is also expected to release a report Wednesday detailing the prevalence of sexual assaults, noting that more than 23.5 million Americans have been the victims of sex crimes.
Last month, the president ordered military leaders to improve the prevention of sexual assault among the military ranks within a year. On Wednesday, he said the issue remained a "profound injustice" his administration was looking to combat every day.
The naming of the presidential task force also dovetails with other efforts by the Obama administration to improve federal tracking of colleges and universities.
Last summer, Obama ordered the Department of Education to create a new ranking system that grades universities on their value to students, providing applicants with a clearer idea of which schools give students the best bang for their buck.
He also proposed tying federal aid to the rating system, arguing that the federal government should not subsidize schools "who have higher default rates than graduation rates."
--This report was originally published at 8:02 a.m. and last updated at 2:38 p.m.