Joe Biden Encourages GMU Students to Change the Culture Around Sexual Assault

“Think about in five.” The room grew silent and somewhat somber as former Vice President Joe Biden mentioned the statistic that one in five women on college campuses have been sexually assaulted during their time there. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Biden spoke on behalf of It’s On Us, a White House campaign to combat sexual assaults on college campuses. The former Vice President has been a champion of gender based violence since drafting the Violence Against Women Act in 1990. On Wednesday, Biden came to George Mason University to encourage hundreds of students to take the initiative in order to eradicate the statistic.

In what was the most intense moment of the morning, Biden’s voice rose as he addressed the continuous victim blaming that occurs in regard to sexual assault. “Why were you at a bar? What were you wearing? How hard did you try to stop it?” These are too often the reactions victims receive when disclosing a sexual assault. Not only do these questions perpetuate rape culture, but they greatly affect how (or if at all) a victim will proceed with reporting and healing from the assault. Biden’s answers to all of those questions was, “It does NOT matter!” because there is never a “rapeable offense.”

Another theme of Biden’s talk was the importance of getting men involved in the movement. On a few occasions, he addressed the college men in the room specifically, encouraging them to speak up in the face of rape culture or when they see a friend in a potential assault situation. Men are essential to the movement against sexual assault because it is not just a women’s issue; it’s a human rights issue. 

Biden was not the only celebrity in the room. 13 Reasons Why actress Alisha Boe and executive producer Joy Gorman took the stage as well. Boe’s character on the hit Netflix series, Jessica Davis, was raped and the actress spoke to the struggles, but also the strengths, of the survivors. She said, “We want the survivors in the room today to know that your voice matters, your story is important and your truth is real. You are never, ever, ever alone.”

At George Mason University, survivors are never alone. The Student Support and Advocacy Center has a 24-hour crisis line, the Counseling and Psychological Center has certified counselors to assist in the healing process, and official reports can be made to the Title IX office or to the GMU police. You are never alone at GMU.

Finally, Biden ended with, “You all have an opportunity to begin to change the culture and pattern to change of how we look at violence against women.” As young people, we are in a remarkable place to set the terms for the future. Now is the time to start pushing for change. Let’s do better. Let’s be better.