Preventing sexual violence at university

Ella Rhodes on an evaluation of higher education safeguarding projects.

Universities should encourage students to come forward to report sexual misconduct and hate crime, and employ staff to support training, investigations, and awareness-raising campaigns. That’s according to an evaluation of higher education safeguarding projects by Advance HE.

The authors, including Professor of Forensic Psychology Graham Towl (Durham University), found that tolerance for sexual misconduct and hate crime had decreased in universities and reporting of both had increased. However, better governance and change leadership are necessary to build on these foundations.

The authors set out a series of minimum standards, such as employing a full-time staff member for every 10,000 students to coordinate investigations into incidents and run awareness-raising campaigns. They also suggest universities work collaboratively with community organisations including schools, voluntary organisations, the police and sexual violence referral centres.

Professor Towl said while psychologists had done much to understand sex offenders, in terms of assessment and treatment, less focus had been directed towards preventing sexual violence. ‘Sexual violence and misconduct is an area of growing concern, and university communities have much to contribute to prevention. A psychological understanding of such behaviours has been key in influencing developments in this area. For example, the seminal work of Helen Mott in introducing and evaluating bystander intervention initiatives which draw from social psychological studies. Ensuring that policies and practices are informed by a psychological understanding of sexual violence has been key in sectors such as higher education and further education, so frequently in denial about the problem in the past.’

To read the full report see: tinyurl.com/y2yjtv3k

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