White House anti-assault campaign uses stars, sports to reach campuses

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 19, 2014 10:58 AM

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who have long talked about the need to curb sexual assault at universities, will get some help on Friday from some people who young adults actually listen to: celebrities and athletes.

In its latest effort to help college campuses tackle the issue, the White House is relying on a combination of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, social media and star power to spread its message aimed at preventing and coping with such assaults.

Television actors Jon Hamm and Kerry Washington, hip-hop artist Common and NBA basketball player Kevin Love are among the celebrities promoting the public awareness campaign, called "It's On Us."

The stars are featured in videos set to air at college sporting events and across the Internet, the White House said. Companies including video game maker Electronic Arts Inc and media giant Viacom Inc are also on board to spread the message on Facebook, Twitter and cable television.

"We ... want to make sure that it's clear to people all across the country, on campuses in particular, that it's on all of us to take responsibility for combating and eliminating sexual violence on college campuses," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told MSNBC on Friday.

"From teachers and coaches to students to fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, it's on us to speak up," he said shortly before Obama and Biden were due to formally unveil the media effort.

Almost one in five women, according to U.S. statistics, have been victims of sexual assault. Among those, nearly 40 percent were first assaulted between the ages 18 and 24. In comparison, one in 71 men have reported being raped at some point in their lives, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showed.

The campaign comes as the National Football League struggles to cope with a series of alleged assaults by players.

The furor has touched college sports as well. This week, Florida State University benched its top quarterback - for half a game - after he shouted an obscene sexual phrase.

White House officials hope spreading the anti-assault message at sporting events to help reach younger adults.

One video on the campaign website (www.itsonus.org) includes actors Mayim Bialik and Rose Byrne, comedian Joel McHale, and musicians Questlove and Randy Jackson. Biden and Obama also speak in the clip.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu and G Crosse)