CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged Monday that she will address sexual assault on campuses if she becomes president and voiced solidarity with victims, saying, "You have the right to be believed."
Speaking to more than 500 people at the University of Northern Iowa, the Democratic presidential candidate said she will offer a comprehensive approach to campus sexual assaults. This means support to survivors, a disciplinary or legal process fair to all and more steps to prevent assaults from happening, she said.
She gave few specifics. Her campaign said that in one example, she would work to establish sexual-violence prevention education programs earlier, in secondary school "where norms begin to set in."
"Today I want to send a message to every survivor of sexual assault," Clinton said. "Don't let anyone silence your voice. You have the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed and we're with you."
Clinton said she would build on President Barack Obama's efforts to curb sexual assaults at collages. Those steps include releasing the names of colleges and universities facing Title IX investigations for their handling of such cases.
Clinton had two events scheduled in Iowa on Monday, both billed as "Women for Hillary" organizing meetings. The campaign has released a list of women — many in elected office or key Democratic positions — who are backing Clinton in all 99 counties in the leadoff caucus state.
Since entering the race, Clinton has made an economic pitch to women, focusing on issues like pay equity, family leave and child care, putting a more conspicuous focus on female voters than in her 2008 campaign.
During her remarks, Clinton argued that providing equal pay and affordable child care were important economic issues. To Republican accusations that she's pandering to women, she said: "If supporting women's health and supporting women's rights is playing the gender card, deal me in." Clinton said Republican calls to cut off taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood are "dead wrong for 21st century America."
Clinton's stop in Cedar Falls drew a mix of students and older supporters. Appearing on a college campus gave Clinton a chance to pitch to younger voters, who have been very supportive of her main rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Polls suggest Sanders has a lead over Clinton in New Hampshire and is closing the gap in Iowa. He has been drawing huge crowds on college campuses, appealing to students with an unfiltered liberal message and promise of a "political revolution."
Asked by an audience member for her opinion on Sanders' political views, Clinton said she was glad the Democrats were having a "vigorous debate." She said, "He's doing a great job, and the others who are out there are working hard."
After the college stop, Clinton visited a shop called Popcorn Heaven in nearby Waterloo where she chatted with owner ReShonda Young, whom she had previously met at a business round table. Clinton bought popcorn and fudge and posed for photos with Young and her family.
Young, who founded the chain that now has several stores in Iowa and outside the state, said she thought Clinton "understands the struggle of the small business owner."