STUDENTS have hit out at Essex University for putting on a “deeply insensitive” play screening about sexual assault.

Students at the university received an email saying they must attend a screening of a play called Can’t Touch This. The play is about consent and sexual assault.

The university said the screenings are compulsory, however students feel the play could be insensitive and harrowing for victims.

The film is being shown twice a night up until Sunday.

The email from the university, seen by the Gazette, said: “Attendance at this screening is MANDATORY.

“If you are unable to attend one of the screenings this week, you must alert your department immediately.

“The [university] is a community of supportive and inclusive people who respect one another. We have a zero tolerance of harassment and hate crime in all its forms.

“This hard-hitting performance tackles issues of consent – and it is vital that all of our students see the production.

“Those who do not attend will be contacted by our student support team.”

In the summer university bosses apologised for taking too long to investigate allegations of sexual assault on students.

Essex University registrar Bryn Morris said their aim is to conclude all investigations within 60 days, however they failed to meet the standard for 20 per cent of the complaints last year.

The screening, although an attempt to educate students about consent, has left students taking to Twitter to air their outrage.

One Tweet said: “Please stop this policy and apologise to all the sexual assault victims you have placed in a horrendous position, @Uni_of_Essex.”

Another called the screening “deeply insensitive and damaging”.

Another Tweet said: “I can’t be the only person who thinks this is poorly thought out, right?

“What about the people that this screening or even this email might find triggering from their own experiences?”

However student Marina Cusi Sanchez said it was an important message to share. 

She said: "Not all victims wish to share their story or to be acknowledged as a victim, so this kind of solution hasn't been that popular. 

"Personally, as the writer and director of 'Plucked', a theatre play that advocates against sexual harassment on campus, my main concern is about how university is planning to support those attending the screening. Will there be any team or room dedicated to listening and supporting to people who may have been affected by these issues?

"I applaud the university on taking a step forward addressing a very important problem that affects us directly. I truly believe theatre is a very powerful way of getting this message around and talking about topics that may be uncomfortable.

"Educating is always the best way to prevent aggressions to happen. However, we should find a way of implementing this training without it clashing with students' free will of choice." 

Essex University's response

ESSEX University has said sorry if the request for students to attend a play on sexual assault put them in a difficult situation.

A spokesman said: “Compulsory consent training for all students is being launched by the university in response to a request from the Students’ Union, which is campaigning for urgent change to the way we deal with cases of sexual harassment on our campuses.

“We took the decision to make the training compulsory because both the university and Students’ Union think it is vital all of our students engage with these issues.

“We would never want survivors of harassment or sexual violence to feel they must attend this training and we’re sorry if they felt they were placed in a difficult situation. Any student can contact our Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity team confidentially if they have any concerns about attending the training.

“This training is part of a much wider programme of actions including a new Code of Student Conduct, a year-long programme of bystander training, additional patrols at night, increased CCTV coverage across all campuses and additional resources for our conduct team to ensure issues are dealt with in a timely manner.

“We hope everyone will support our efforts to create the right environment for students and staff.

“We know our students can be deeply affected by these issues and would urge anyone who needs support to contact our Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity team.”