Vice President Joe Biden brought the White House campaign to reduce college sexual assaults to the University of Illinois on Thursday, urging students to force the cultural change he said it will require.
Biden took an almost evangelical tone when telling about 1,500 students who gathered in a campus gymnasium to live by a code that would make sexual assault unacceptable.
"Raping someone who's passed out — when there's even a discussion of whether that's a crime, it is outrageous," he said in a raised voice. "What kind of man does it take to do that?"
He challenged the male students in particular. "It's time for all of you to step up," he said. "Show courage. Be the man you were raised to be."
When it comes to schools, Biden said, they also have a "legal responsibility and a moral obligation to protect their students."
Some of the students said afterward they appreciated Biden's emotional tone on a subject they're hearing more about but still can't be tough to talk about.
"It made it seem that he was really sure, he was committed," junior Anny Martinez, a technical systems management major from Chicago, said. "Someone should have the courage to bring it up. A lot of people don't talk about it."
President Barack Obama kicked off the "It's on Us" campaign to prevent sexual assaults last year. Biden came to the University of Illinois after learning about the campus' local involvement with the campaign, university officials have said, including public service announcements featuring athletes and other students.
As a U.S. senator, Biden sponsored the legislation that in 1994 became the federal Violence Against Women Act.
According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Justice Department, only about 20 percent of campus sexual assault are reported. But such attacks have been more frequently covered in the news in recent years, focusing attention on a problem that wasn't always even considered a crime, Biden pointed out.
He told the students an anecdote about a woman at a Pennsylvania college who was sexually assaulted by her roommate's boyfriend. When her dorm's resident adviser told her she'd been raped, the student said she hadn't.
"She said, 'No, I haven't been raped, I knew him,'" Biden said.
"To change the culture you have to speak up," he urged. "There are good people. But make them look at it. Make them understand it."