Can academic conferences reach beyond the walls of the lecture halls and influence the lives of others?
Sexual violence is a topic that is high on the agenda across the world and is an area of deep expertise at Middlesex University, with three of the members of the Forensic Psychological Services all specialists in the subject. With such accrued knowledge, Dr Jackie Gray, Prof Miranda Horvath and Dr Susan Hansen organised a one-day conference on sexual violence in 2011, attracting over 120 key practitioners, leading strategists, policy makers and academics working in the field from around the world. During the conference four keynotes, four debate sessions, 31 papers and 12 posters were presented.
The conference presented the most up-to-date thinking on the issue of sexual violence and discussed how the results of research and expertise could be applied by governments in policymaking and also right at the front-line by people who work with victims or offenders. It aimed to increase knowledge of recent advancements in the field, enhance working practices and stimulate discussion and debate that will move society a step closer to a world without sexual violence.
It included a presentation by Professor Betsy Stanko, Head of the Strategy, Research and Analysis Unit, Strategy and Improvement Department, Directorate of Resources at the Metropolitan Police Service, who looked at allegations of rape in the force area for the last seven years. The presentation raised a number of questions about the intersection of academic and practitioner knowledge and the justice system. Other speakers included: Professor Moira Carmody from the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney; Professor Derek Perkins, a Consultant Clinical and Forensic Psychologist and the Head of Psychological Services for the forensic services of West London Mental Health NHS Trust, including Broadmoor Hospital; Dr Karen Franklin a forensic psychologist in independent practice in the San Francisco Bay Area, an adjunct professor at Alliant International University and Professor Moira Carmody from the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney.
The Middlesex academics also invited the London-based feminist artist, Alex Brew, to present work in response to the conference theme. This took the form of a video installation, entitled "Not for the faint hearted", in the main lecture theatre, and provoked much discussion.
The same year they hosted a half-day masterclass with Professor Moira Carmody about the Sex and Ethics Violence Prevention Program that she developed in Australia, an approach which has also been adopted in New Zealand. It was used in an innovative public health campaign to combat an expected rise in sexual assaults during the Rugby World Cup.
Following on from the success of the conference and masterclass, the team ran two Continuing Professional Development workshops in London in 2012 funded by the British Psychological Society. They were also invited by the Scottish branch of the Forensic section of the BPS, to host a day-long seminar in Glasgow that brought together the best of the two London seminars.
Prof Horvath says: "These conferences are a great display of team working and they really show that Middlesex has the capacity to provide training that professionals in the field of sexual violence want and need. Research can make a difference to daily life, and if ever you wanted to be persuaded of that, the long-lasting benefits of the conferences are very good testimony."