Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday delivered an impassioned speech at UNLV denouncing sexual assault on college campuses, condemning a culture that subjects victims to being “raped by the system.”
“Everybody knows somebody — including young men — who have been abused,” Biden told a crowd of about 1,000 that filled the school’s Cox Pavilion. “Are you doing enough?”
Joined by pop star Lady Gaga, Biden visited UNLV to promote the “It’s On Us” campaign, a White House initiative that aims to raise awareness about sex abuse on campuses. As author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, Biden intends to leave a legacy as an advocate for battered women.
Biden’s Las Vegas visit capped a tour this week that included stops at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Colorado, Boulder. The duo were greeted in Nevada by enthusiastic fans who stood in line for more than two hours to attend the free rally, which ended with Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens to You.”
The vice president’s office picked UNLV as a host because students there expressed interest in the campaign, spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak said.
“I’m asking all of you to truly take a stand against sexual assault,” UNLV student Holly Ramella told the audience. Ramella, who works at the university’s Women’s Center, took the lectern to share her experience as a rape victim and to urge other abused students to seek help.
“We have seen time and again that perpetrators are given excuse after excuse, while victims are told they are ruining the lives of good people,” Ramella said. “If we are going to reduce rates of sexual assault and support victims, we have to change our culture.”
RAPE AT UNLV
UNLV reported five rapes on campus in 2014 — the most recent year for which data was available from the U.S. Department of Education. Seven cases of rape were reported in 2013 and one in 2012.
Barrett Morris, who investigates claims of sexual harassment and assault claims at the school, said the jump could indicate more students are reporting abuse rather than keeping silent. Some believe UNLV’s numbers are generally underreported because victims are hesitant to come forward.
“Maybe they don’t want to out themselves as survivors,” said Hafid Acosta-Gomez, a student advocate who works with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender abuse victims at the Women’s Center. “They might not want to out themselves as LGBTQ.”
It’s a problem nationwide, said Daniele Dreitzer, executive director at the Las Vegas-based Rape Crisis Center.
“It happens on every college campus,” Dreitzer said. “I don’t think any school is immune.”
The university offers a variety of sexual assault prevention and treatment services for students, including its Campus Advocacy Resource Empowerment line, which provides help for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. Students undergo training to staff the CARE line, which is housed under the Women’s Center.
But freshman Caitlyn Caruso said schools aren’t doing enough to protect victims, and “UNLV is not exempt from this.” UNLV student body President Kanani Espinoza echoed Caruso’s message, urging the audience to “demand the university to do everything it can and should” to fight sex assault on campus.
“We live in a world that values rapists over survivors,” Caruso said. “I want you to get riled up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Pashtana Usufzy contributed to this report. Contact Ana Ley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512. Find @la__ley on Twitter.