Vol. 80, No. 2Cover stories

Male police officer hands out pamphlets to two students.

Pocket-sized prevention

Constable discusses sexual consent in B.C. schools

Cst. Ian Sim (right) hands out copies of the Understanding Sexual Consent pocket guide to students at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C. Credit: B.C. RCMP


On many university campuses, sexual consent is a hot-button issue, and the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, B.C., is no exception. That's why Cst. Ian Sim created Understanding Sexual Consent: A pocket guide last year.

"We need to work smarter, and for me that's prevention," says Sim, a community liaison officer at the RCMP's University detachment in Vancouver. "After the fact, it's too late for victims."

The pocket-sized guide uses pictograms and simple words to convey what consent is, what it isn't, and what phone numbers you can call to get help or report an incident.

Sim and other officers at the University detachment use the pocket guides as an education and prevention tool, handing them out to counsellors in the local elementary and high schools, and to students on UBC's campus.

"If I can make people feel comfortable discussing this important issue, that's the goal," says Sim. "But if I can keep people safe, that's the holy grail."

A portable message

Sim created the tri-fold double-sided pocket guide last year after one of the RCMP's crime prevention posters caught his eye. The poster deftly and creatively conveyed the concept of sexual consent — a topic that's been on the radar of politicians, workplaces, schools and law enforcement for the past few years.

The RCMP's National Crime Prevention Services created the original infographic poster in 2016, following increased appetite from schools and police officers for new ways to start conversations about intimate partner violence and sexual consent.

"We wanted to incorporate imagery youth are using and seeing on an everyday basis, like emoji's," says Louis Zuniga, manager of the RCMP's National Youth Services. "We wanted to pull from those trends to make sure the language we used resonated with youth and they could understand it."

The colourful simplicity of the poster struck a chord with Sim, but he wanted something more tactile and mobile to hand out on his foot patrols. Sim approached B.C. Crime Prevention Services, which adapted the poster's content into a smaller pocket-sized format.

"I wanted to create a different platform to expand our audience," he says. "It works for elementary and high schools, the university, the bar crowd, as well as parents. Everyone can use the information in the pocket guide."

Sim uses the pocket guide as a tool when he discusses consent with youth and young adults. He says the pictograms can even help those who don't read English or French (the two languages in which the guide is currently available) understand the message.

Campus buy-in

Sim has been handing out the pocket guides since last summer. He says the back-to-school season in September was when they really took off.

"I was on the street as hundreds of kids went to the frat houses for parties," says Sim. "I handed out $230 tickets for open liquor, and I also handed out the pocketbooks."

So far, Sim says he's only received positive feedback from youth and university students. Recently, he bumped into UBC's inter-fraternity president during a routine foot patrol of campus. He was surprised to hear the young man had a stack of the guides in his back pocket.

"It mobilizes the conversation and brings it into the environments where the discussion is needed," says Jeriah Newman, president of UBC's Interfraternity Council. "The pocket guides are great because the person gets to leave with them — they can put it in their pocket and read it anytime."

Newman says a lot of students are uncertain or confused when it comes to consent, and this guide "brings it back to reality" with the basics. He says the simple messages like telling people to always ask permission, or reminding people that consent isn't implicit, are what makes the guide hit home.

The pocket guide is also resonating with UBC campus administration. This school year, the UBC Student Housing office requested 10,000 copies to hand out to all students staying in residence.

"This is an issue that's everywhere, in every community, from coast-to-coast-to-coast. The level of trauma as a result of sexual violence can be life-changing," says Sim. "The pocketbook will make a difference because we're giving thousands of kids and young adults across the province the tools to stop sexual assaults and sexual harassment. It doesn't get any better than that."

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