A sense of community is often one of the main factors in student's decisions when picking a university. I remember asking myself, where do I want to live for the next four years? What environment will foster my development as an individual? Moreover, is McGill home to smaller communities that fit my interests and aspirations.
For me one of the most important communities I have joined over my time at McGill has been through volunteering for the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill student society or SACOMSS. Currently, I am in a P&P position as SACOMSS external communicator. As an organization SACOMSS strives to be a pro-survivor, pro-feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-ableist, anti-classist, queer-positive, trans-positive, pro-sex worker, and anti-oppressive organization. Furthermore, our services reflect a non-judgmental approach. While in many ways this supports individuals who seek out our services it also creates a certain environment amongst its members.
I feel that this has fostered a sense of community that reflects how I go through life. Primarily, the importance of empathy for not only others but for ourselves.
To provide a better viewpoint of SACOMSS as an organization I spoke to one of the volunteers about the service and the importance of awareness about the effects of sexual assault within marginalized communities.
Q: What support does the organization provide for the 2SLGTBQIA+ community?
“SACOMSS aims to be anti-oppressive and is mandated to uphold this mission. We recognize that homophobia and transphobia are systems of oppression that limit the queer community’s access to power and makes them vulnerable to discriminatory treatment at both macro and micro levels. Our volunteers are trained to be knowledgeable about the specific issues 2SLGTBQIA+ service users may face in relation to sexual violence and accessing support. We understand that 2SLGTBQIA+ people are more vulnerable to sexual violence than cisgender and straight people due to power imbalances and the widespread harmful myths about queerness and transness.”
Q: Statistically in Canada, out of every 1000 women 50 experience sexual assault; in Canada, trans and non-binary folks are 2-3 times more likely to be sexually assaulted. What are your thoughts on this issue?
“Statistics Canada data shows that sexual minority Canadians are more likely than heterosexual Canadians to experience sexual assault and almost three times more likely to be violently victimized. These figures are inextricably connected to institutionally demanded cisheteronormativity and the stigma and real threats to livelihood that come from existing outside this demand. Violent policing of 2SLGBTQIA+ people has been present on this land since, and as a direct result of, colonization. In my opinion, the modern 2SLGBTQIA+ rights movement owes a great deal to the unwavering resistance and activism of racialized queer, trans, and Two-spirit peoples for more than decades. Therefore, as a service SACOMSS strives to be aware of the intersectional oppression that different members of the community face. Reflecting the need for support services for Sexual assault across all communities and an awareness of these differing impacts.”
Q: Why are the services provided by SACOMMS so important for our community and what impact do you hope it will have as an organization?
A: At present SACOMSS has two volunteer-run operational branches: advocacy and DIAL. Both branches offer free, confidential, non-judgmental, and affirm support to survivors and their allies at McGill and the broader community. Advocacy, or A-branch, volunteers bring a caring approach to exploring your options, rights, and resources at McGill or more broadly. They are knowledgeable about McGill’s Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination Prohibited by Law Policy and how to navigate the administrative system within McGill which is particularly helpful to McGill students and staff. Volunteers of this branch can provide active listening, do research, and/or offer accompaniment services for survivors to meetings, legal procedures, medical appointments, etc. Advocacy volunteers are non-directional, which means that the decision whether to pursue any of the available resources is always yours, that you can seek support without the involvement of the police or the university, and that volunteers are here to support you in your decision.
Through my volunteer position, I know firsthand the importance of support for sexual assault survivors from all communities. During my time at SACOMMS, I was trained through the DIAL (Drop-in and Line) branch, which currently offers a confidential active listening line (438-943-4855).
It is staffed most hours, between 12pm and 12am and aims to always be staffed from 3 to 6pm during the academic year. Historically, we have also provided drop-ins at the SACOMSS centre in the SSMU building and hope to be able to offer that again in future. DIAL volunteers such as myself, are trained in active listening, a skill used to support survivors without making decisions for the survivor or directing their feelings. We operate from a pro-survivor perspective that believes and validates our callers. When you call, there is no pressure to disclose any or all details about your situation or even to share if you are not ready. We prioritize your self-determination, your pace, and your needs.
From DIAL volunteers, you can expect non-judgemental and calm listeners who are ready to reassure and validate, as you process your experience out loud. DIAL volunteers are also trained to respond to a wide variety of calls from folks who are distressed, to those looking for resources such as harm-reduction supplies, queer support services, or medical clinics.
Notably, we know our limitations as an organization, to provide the best support we work to stay up to date with other resources in the Montreal area including those that emphasize support for marginalized groups. While we may not be personally affiliated with these groups it is safe to say that all these organizations hope to create a sense of community for survivors.
It is crucial that survivors know they deserve support and a safe space to talk in any capacity they need. As a volunteer, I feel support can make all the difference in the healing process. While it is especially important that organizations provide this support, everyone should do their part to combat sexual violence. Whether it be through understanding definitions such as consent and sexual assault, being an ally for sexual assault survivors or even volunteering for organizations like SACOMSS everyone should be involved to make the McGill community a safe space.
If you are interested in getting involved with SACOMSS visit our website at: https://www.sacomss.org/wp/get-involved/
If you or someone you know is seeking support here is a list of resources for sexual violence survivors and their allies:
SACOMSS: DIAL (438-943-4855) available Wednesday 12:00-3:00 PM and Thursday 5:00-8:00 PM or ABranch (Advocacy [at] sacomss.org)
Nightline: 514-398-6246 (operating hours are 6 pm – 3 am every day of the week)
Centre pour les victimes d’agression sexuelle des Montréal: Helpline (188-933-9007)