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When Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama began the It’s on Us social campaign in 2014, Biden — who years earlier co-authored and drove the bipartisan passage of the Violence Against Women Act as a senator from Delaware — had aspired to events such as last night’s first-ever Biden Courage Awards. Hosted in partnership with Biden and the Biden Foundation, the inaugural reception was held in New York at the Russian Tea Room’s third-floor ballroom last night and recognized five “student heroes” who have taken up the mantle of It’s on Us and dedicated themselves to stopping sexual assault on college campuses.
Emceed by The View’s Sunny Hostin (who was once a prosecutor who handled child sex crimes, crimes against women, and child trafficking), the evening featured actors Connie Britton, Adam Devine and Matt McGorry alongside magazine editors Elaine Welteroth (Teen Vogue), Michele Promaulayko (Cosmopolitan) and Jay Fielden (Esquire) presenting Biden Courage Awards for campus organizing, Greek leadership, policy change and bystander intervention to students Theresa Hinman, Kyle Sheppard, Tori Schaefer and Kyle Richard, respectively.
Richard — a SUNY Cortland football player who was held at gunpoint and shot three times while stopping a sexual assault at a Long Island house party — received an additional surprise with the evening’s final award: a congratulatory letter from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The NFL also sponsored the Biden Courage Award for Bystander Intervention. (The other three awards’ sponsors were Pandora, the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values and Complex.)
The letter was not the only time Goodell was mentioned onstage. The true highlight of the evening came when Biden himself took the podium for his anticipated remarks, where he entered to the sounds of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.” There, he maintained that “we are the leading edge in the world in terms of changing attitudes towards women,” that we are at a “moment where the consciousness of the American people has been awakened,” and that we are “ripping the Band-Aid off the dirty little secret that’s existed in this country for years.” He also at one point thanked Goodell’s involvement with the It’s on Us campaign while lightly criticizing him.
“By the way, the NFL — thank you for your contribution,” Biden said. “But Roger, you’ve gotta do a hell of a lot more than you’re doing.” Biden interrupted the audience’s supportive cheers, clarifying, “I really mean it: The contribution is significant and they mean well.” Later, he had more to say, about the culture of inequality within the NFL and other major sports leagues.
“I’ve called on all the major sports leagues to take part [in the It’s on Us campaign] — not just lip service, but actually, actually make a price be paid,” he continued. “Until the price is paid, men will continue to think it’s OK. [They’ll] say, ‘Well, it wasn’t rape. All I did was grab her and bend her arm down and say, ‘What are you doing?’ I just slapped her across the face. What’s the problem?’ The problem is it generates conduct beyond that that’s even worse.”
Biden’s impassioned and sprawling 30-minute speech covered the bases of today’s #MeToo climate, featuring everything from a guest appearance from his daughter, Ashley (who in part was the inspiration for VAWA), to a review of unnerving statistics (violence against women over 30 has dropped 64 percent while one in five women ages 14 to 24 still face abuse) to — a bit oddly — a callback to Deliverance’s infamous same-sex rape scene (purportedly to get men to take a stand against rape culture and understand the nuances of reporting abuse). Biden even alluded to Hollywood executives like Harvey Weinstein, saying that “this is not about sex, this is about power…usually fat, ugly men with power using their power as you saw with that creep.” The former vice president then bit his tongue: “I shouldn’t be saying this, I’m a former vice president,” he joked. “I should be more in decorum.”
Soon enough, Biden did regather himself and pushed through to a rousing conclusion led by the statistic that a one-time male rapist will, on average, go on to rape seven women. He emphasized that the solution to this #MeToo movement is for men and women to speak up. “Silence is complicity. Silence is consent,” he said.
“Your failure as a woman or a man to speak out and speak up about an individual means statistically you are increasing the prospects [that] another woman will be raped or abused,” Biden said. “So you’ve got a moral obligation. This is not easy to do. I’m not up here saying it’s easy to speak out; it’s hard. It’s really hard. My guess is you all get it. We can and we will at this precipitous moment, if we don’t let up and turn this corner, we will and can change the culture — and my four granddaughters will be forever indebted to all you.”
To watch the Biden Courage Awards ceremony in full, including a night-capping, #MeToo-inspired performance from singer-songwriter FLETCHER of her song “I Believe You,” visit Cosmopolitan’s Periscope page.
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