Reporting assault statistics

Universities should make sexual assault data readily available.

Columbia University came under fire recently for not disclosing how many of its students are charged with sex crimes on campus.

More than 650 Columbia students signed a petition started by the Columbia Democrats student group requesting greater transparency on sexual assault and harassment data and disciplinary policies, the Huffington Post reported Nov. 1.

Despite increasing pressure on Columbia’s administration to disclose the requested information, the university has not complied, citing federal privacy laws.

The student petition received support from the Columbia Spectator Editorial Board, which asked Columbia “to clarify the definition of sexual assault, ensuring that there is no confusion about what exactly constitutes sexual assault.”

The Clery Act of 1990 requires colleges and universities to publish an annual security report that includes statistics on the number of forcible and non-forcible sexual assaults occurring on a university’s campus. Columbia’s 2012 Clery report indicates that 12 forcible sexual assaults were reported on the University’s Morningside campus.

But the Clery Act does not require universities to disclose how many students were charged with the reported sexual assaults, nor what disciplinary action was taken against them. A safe campus is a transparent campus; the administration should not have a problem releasing the requested sexual assault statistics. Students have made it clear they are not seeking data that would profile victims or offenders.

Students at Columbia seeking to improve campus safety and raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assaults are being unfairly blocked by the administration’s wrongful withholding of sexual assault statistics. Columbia should comply with students’ request and release sexual assault data for the sake of safety and transparency at the university.