Essex has failed students with consent education

Competent consent education is a vital part of ensuring we live in a safe and fair environment. But with an 82% increase in reports of university sexual violence last year alone, and recent national backlash over the Warwick lads group chat, is forced learning really the best choice? 

After criticism over their handling of sexual assault, the University of Essex introduced a compulsory film to be watched by all students to try and educate around the issue of consent. Like with most controversial topics, there are right and wrong ways to help. The University of Essex have got it absolutely wrong.

Sexual assault is an epidemic on university campuses and it seems Essex have fallen straight into a panicked solution. What is the most effective and quick fix to sexual assault? A compulsory film, of course, because nothing makes students pay attention more than being forcibly crammed into a lecture theatre for something they likely believe is not their problem. Increasing education around issues of consent and sexual assault will never be a bad thing. It’s an education we need and a topic that needs to be dealt with urgently. Yet, it is not enough to simply watch a film and hope that change comes from nowhere.

The film itself has also been criticised for its dark and serious content, which has led to students making the argument it could be triggering and damaging. By making the film a compulsory viewing, the university have left no way for it to be avoided by victims of sexual assault, although this is unsurprising considering who usually holds power in such institutions. With this move, Essex have shown a complete lack of care for the very people they are supposedly trying to help. A quick fix like this will not create sustainable change and the right choice should never harm those it is supposed to help. Drastic, safe and thought-through action must be taken.

Most university students, especially girls, will know how casual and common non-consensual touching is on a night out. It is not rare to find yourself or your friends being grabbed or groped on the dance floor, at the bar and on the walk home. These minor aggressions can seem insignificant as they happen and are often brushed off as just harmless flirting or banter. 

Yet, the reality of the situation is that these are the subtle behaviours that lead to the bigger issues surrounding consent and perpetuate rape culture. If men and boys think they have any small right over women’s bodies, that they can touch them out of nowhere, despite a clear lack of interest or without asking, then the bigger crimes will not stop. If all a university is doing is telling people not to rape, that it’s never okay, or for victims to report it, then it is already too late. Tackle the problem at its root or it will keep occurring until you do.

Universities should be focusing on creating schemes of fully comprehensive, interactive consent workshops and programmes. It is only by having conversations, breaking down myths and recognising the toxic behaviours that remain at the forefront of our society, that we can truly educate ourselves on consent and make universities safe for everyone. 

We do not live in a perfect world and assuming we are past the point of needing education around the issue of consent is not only naive but dangerous, leaving open space for lives to be ruined and toxicity to go unchallenged. I do not believe that we are without hope, but maybe a film isn’t the way to fix this mess.

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Josie Cosgrove

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August 2022
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