Joe Biden Says Men Who Don’t Stop Sexual Assault Are ‘Cowards’

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There are a lot of reasons to love former vice president Joe Biden. He’s had a long and storied political career, he’s one of the leaders in the government’s fight against cancer; then there’s his love for ice cream, his kind demeanor, and charming finger point (you know the one) earning him the nickname “Uncle Joe,” and of course there were those memes. If you weren’t convinced he was a national treasure before, then President Obama called then Vice President Biden “the best vice president America’s ever had” when he awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, cementing his mark on history. Beyond all of that, his commitment to ending sexual assault on campus is changing the way U.S. schools are making sure women and girls are treated as equals on campus.

Biden helped draft the Violence Against Women Act, which was passed in 1994. In 2007, a report found that one in five women on college campuses was experiencing sexual assault. Ten years later, that number has not changed. That’s why, in the ensuing years, the vice president has worked hard to challenge leaders, college presidents, and you and me to think hard about exactly why sexual assault is so prevalent on college campuses. One of the key issues, he says, is consent, which is why he’s leading the It’s On Us campaign, an effort to get people to realize they too have a role in stopping sexual assault — whether that’s intervening as a bystander, or committing to getting enthusiastic, verbal consent from a sexual partner.

Because of all his work to end sexual assault on campus, Teen Vogue talked to Vice President Biden during Sexual Assault Awareness Month about his efforts, about how sexual assault on campus initiatives may change under the Trump administration, and about why including everyone in the conversation surrounding sexual assault is so important.

Teen Vogue: Your It’s On Us campaign doesn’t address sexual assault survivors, but everyone else. Why?

Vice President Joe Biden: We’re in a situation where one in five women on a college campus is likely to be sexually assaulted. Young women were the most susceptible to be assaulted again after first being assaulted. They became victimized. There’s even data growing [from] the Centers for Disease Control that women suffer from post-traumatic stress as a consequence of this.

We had thousands and thousands of high school and college students on the telephone and I addressed them … by saying look, we need your help. Any suggestions you have how we can make the college campuses or high school campuses safer for you, let us know…. I felt like an idiot when I got the responses. The overwhelming, spontaneous response without any prompting was, get men involved. Get men involved. Although we had been working on trying to change the culture with men as well, all of a sudden it hit us.

That’s when we started the “It’s on Us” campaign, going out to college campuses because bystanders who see something happen, in my view, if they don’t holler, scream, pick up the phone and call and intervene, they are complicitous in the commission of a crime. They are complicitous.

Look, if you see a brother taking a drunk freshman coed up the stairs to his room and you do nothing, you’re a coward. You are a coward. You have an obligation to step up. You know that she’s not able to give consent. And so, I went on campuses, we put together this program, and more than 400,000 people have signed the pledge to intervene. That’s how you change attitudes — get a critical mass of people beginning to speak out so that the attacker or the bystander is the pariah, not the woman being assaulted, whether she’s drunk or sober.

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