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John Abbott College goes on the offensive to teach students about consent

John Abbott College students pose at a photo booth at a consent workshop. Feb 7, 2018. Dan Spector / Global News

John Abbott College brought the fight against sexual assault to the forefront on Wednesday with a new education campaign about consent.

“We’re trying to make students and staff aware that consent is something you have to get every time,” said Julie Chevalier, a psychologist and the chair of Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Team. “We want them to know what consent is, what is not consent, in order to do education and prevention.”

Chevalier said she’s seen an increase in students asking for help in recent years.

“It’s fairly common. It’s a very sad thing, but they do come in a lot,” she told Global News.

READ MORE: Quebec sexual assault bill focuses on campuses

The school decided to bring out the message loud and clear at John Abbott’s Agora. The Sexual Assault Resource Team set up education kiosks, a photo booth with pro-consent slogans, gave out consent cookies and even had a virtual reality experience.

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One student said the experience put the viewer in the virtual shoes of a teenage girl alone with a male classmate to work on a project.

“All of a sudden, the guy made the situation uncomfortable, started touching you. You could see his hand moving toward you,” said student Frank Koloi.

One reason the school decided to do more education about consent was an alleged incident in 2016.

“It made us take a look back and realize that a lot of what we were doing, people were not aware of. So we’re making it a bit more forceful as a message, that everyone has a role to play in this,” said Chevalier.

READ MORE: Concordia and McGill react to Quebec’s new campus sexual assault bill

Students who spoke with Global News thought the new highly visible campaign was a good thing.

“It’s really important to talk about consent,” said police tech student Rima Battista. “It’s a big issue in our times and it’s amazing John Abbott wants to take part in something like this.”

“I think it’s important to create awareness for it. Even though you hear about it all the time, I feel like sometimes it’s brushed aside,” said student Emily O’Neill.

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The school says it will have more such events in the future, as they prepare for the implication of Quebec’s bill regulating sexual harassment on campuses.