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Cecile Richards, President Of Planned Parenthood, Pays Tribute To College Sexual Assault Activists During Commencement Address

Cecile Richards Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards paid tribute to two college sexual assault activists during her commencement address at Barnard College on Sunday.

Richards spoke to the female college graduates in a speech themed around the progress women have made, largely due to activists who challenged authority on a range of issues. The Planned Parenthood leader is the daughter of former Texas Governor Ann Richards.

“That’s the thing about women,” Richards said during her speech. “Give us an inch and we just won’t quit.”

Richards went on to highlight Annie Clark, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduate, and Andrea Pino, a current undergrad at the Tar Heel state flagship institution. Clark and Pino cofounded End Rape On Campus and have assisted a number of students, faculty and alumni in filing federal complaints against their universities over institutional handling of sexual assault cases.

To discuss college sexual assault activists at Barnard is especially noteworthy considering the school’s affiliation with Columbia University. Barnard is an official college of Columbia, and the university at large is accused of mishandling sexual assault cases on campus.

Currently, 55 colleges and universities across the country are under federal investigation for their mishandling of sexual assault complaints under Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. It is the same law that guarantees girls equal access to sports, but it also regulates institutions’ handling of sexual violence and increasingly is being used by victims who say their schools failed to protect them.

In a Presidential Memorandum in January, President Obama announced that specific national attention will be given to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses by the creation of a new task force. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was inspired by a recent report by the White House Council on Women and Girls, which found that approximately 1 in 5 college women and 1 in 71 college men experience sexual assault, and that a shockingly small 12 percent of victims report sexual assaults on college campuses.

There are a number of reasons that the women who are attacked don’t report the crimes, but largely, they don’t report out of fear of their attacker and out of fear that they won’t be believed. This, in turn, contributes to the perpetuation of sexual assault and the silencing of those who’ve been victimized.

That’s why the work of activists like Clark and Pino, who were among the first to bring this issue to light and demand action from our lawmakers, is so important.

Here’s what Richards said about it in her commencement address:

And then there’s Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, who met after they had each been sexually assaulted as students at UNC and realized what happened to them was happening everywhere. And no one was talking about it.

The first time they pitched their story to a national reporter, the reporter laughed.

Two months later they were on the front page of The New York Times.

That’s when the floodgates opened. They heard from hundreds of survivors all over the country.

And then this March, Annie and Andrea showed up at Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office without an appointment and said, “Let’s talk about ending sexual assault on campus.”

As Annie tells it: “We started talking – and she listened.”

Today they’ve formed a national network of survivors, working with Congress and the White House to end campus sexual assault and demand justice.

The common theme?

These women didn’t wait to be asked. They just jumped headfirst.

Richards also discussed accomplishments by Ory Okolloh (Kenyan activist, lawyer, blogger, and Director of Investments at Omidyar Network), the late Congresswoman Bella Abzug (“founding feminist” and leader of the Women’s Movement), and Reshma Saujani (lawyer, politician, activist, and founder of Girls Who Code), among others.

“So I’m here to tell you -– just do it. Whatever it is. Say yes,” Richards said. “You’re Barnard women and certainly have the smarts and training to figure everything else out. As the late great Nora Ephron advised, ‘Be the heroine of your life, never the victim.'”


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