Tackling sexual violence at university

A new taskforce chaired by Professor Graham Towl.

Former Ministry of Justice Chief Psychologist Graham Towl (University of Durham) has become chair of an innovative Sexual Violence Taskforce at the university – the first of its kind in the UK. The issue of sexual violence against students has been garnering more public attention in recent years, and was shockingly highlighted by the US film The Hunting Ground, but these crimes remain underreported.

The group will provide representation from students and staff, including experts on sexual violence issues, and it is currently researching and reviewing university policy and practice in this area. Information and support for those affected by sexual violence will also be provided and the taskforce is taking input from survivor groups, professionals working in the area such as the police and from rape crisis organisations.

Professor Towl, who is Pro Vice Chancellor for Student Experience at Durham, spoke to The Psychologist about the importance for such a group. He said as sexual violence was an underreported crime, universities had a civic duty to address it. He added: ‘At Durham University we have taken a proactive approach; we have invested in prevention work through educational sessions on consent and on bystander training, which gives those who witness sexual misconduct, the confidence to intervene. We have worked with our external partners, such as the police and Rape Crisis. Additionally, we have strengthened the support available to those who report sexual assaults to us as a university, including disclosure training for staff, and increased support from the local Rape Crisis team.’

He said increased reporting of these incidents would lead to better support for those affected, both educationally and psychologically. ‘Reporting levels are also a salutary reminder of the need for us to address this all-too-frequently hidden problem affecting particularly, but not exclusively, young women in university communities. The empowerment of survivors is key to our approach,’ he added. er

For more information, plus resources and support organisations, go to tinyurl.com/hc3v7cb

Update: recommendations of the Sexual Violence Task Force.

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