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Key to ending campus sexual assaults is transparency

Choosing a college is an important decision. Each year, students spend dozens of hours discussing with their parents, teachers, counselors and coaches where they would like to spend the next few years of their lives. They pore over statistics, rankings and testimonials, trying to decide which school is the best fit. And data is everywhere: A prospective student can go online to find anything from financial aid statistics to the average class size to the number of robberies on campus.

But one piece of critical information is conspicuously absent. When a high school senior wants to know how well her dream university responds to sexual assault cases, that information is nowhere to be found. In the hypercompetitive world of college admissions, few schools are willing to stand up and make public just how well their students think they are addressing incidents of sexual assault on their campuses. Instead, colleges essentially have an incentive to stay quiet; no school wants to be the outlier, the only one to admit it has a problem.

We must change this. Our colleges and universities need a new set of incentives that would encourage them to go public and be transparent about their ability to prevent and respond to sexual assault on their campuses.

 Colleges and universities must address the problems on their campuses so that their students feel safe. To get to that point, our bill, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, would require every college and university in the country to take part in a national survey that asks students about the campus sexual assault climate at their school. The results would be made public, for any prospective applicant and any parent to see and be able to consider during the admissions process.

Without a survey, it is nearly impossible for applicants, students and parents to know how good or bad the climate is at any particular school. This information should be transparent and public. Our families deserve to know which schools have a sexual assault problem and which schools don’t, just as much as they deserve to know the school’s academic rankings or endowment.

The key to understanding campus sexual assault — and then fighting it — is going to be in the data. If students report in the survey that their universities take them seriously and are doing everything possible to prevent assaults, to help survivors and to respond to incidents in a fair and transparent manner, the data will reflect it, and schools will have no reason to worry about going public with this information.

Our families need to know which schools are taking the problem seriously and which are pretending there’s no problem at all. Our schools need to feel motivated to come clean about the extent of their sexual assault problem, so they can move to fix it.

– Kelly Ayotte and Kirsten Gillibrand


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democrat from New York. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is a Republican from New Hampshire.

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