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Why universities and students should talk about sexual violence

02 May 2019

In a keynote address to the student stream of our annual conference today, BPS Fellow Professor Graham Towl said universities must be open about the problem of sexual violence before they can hope to solve it.

In a keynote address to the student stream of our annual conference today, BPS Fellow Professor Graham Towl said universities must be open about the problem of sexual violence before they can hope to solve it.

He argued that institutions should not take comfort from low reporting rates of sexual violence as they may be a sign of a lack of trust from students.

Professor Towl, who chaired Durham’s sexual violence taskforce while he was the university’s pro vice chancellor, said:

“It is easy to underestimate the scale of problems that are not necessarily widely discussed. One benefit of talking about sexual violence at universities more openly is that anyone experiencing sexual violence can more readily know that they are extremely unlikely to be alone as a victim.”

He said more prospective students should ask about how universities are tackling sexual violence when they visit on open days. This will encourage universities to invest in this area and contribute to the prevention of sexual violence

Professor Towl paid tribute to the role of student activism in drawing attention to the problem and suggested psychology students should think about the contribution they could make to bringing about change:

“Research is one way of achieving that, but there is so much that you can potentially contribute by way of your involvement through student unions, psychology societies and other student bodies such as Nightline. “

Professor Towl is a former chief psychologist at the Ministry of Justice and former head of psychological services for prisons and probation.

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