The West Island CALACS is a non-profit organization that advocates against sexual assault and provides support services to women, trans, Two-spirit and non-binary survivors, as well as prevention services within the community. We caught up with Noémie Benoit, Transformation and Social Engagement Coordinator at the West Island CALACS, to learn more about what they do.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences
The West Island CALACS is a non-profit organization that advocates against sexual assault and provides support services to women, trans, Two-spirit and non-binary survivors, as well as prevention services within the community. Indeed, we believe that to fight sexual violence, support services, prevention and activism must exist in continuous interaction. First, our direct assistance support services allow us to break the isolation of the victims and to help them on their way to recovery. Secondly, our prevention services participate in reducing people of marginalized genders’ vulnerability by working towards a culture of consent, offering visibility to the issue and breaking the stigma surrounding it. Finally, we also fight on all fronts against the different systems of oppression that affect and endanger women, trans, Two-Spirit and non-binary people. In that sense, our approach relies on intersectional feminism, while the values of equality, solidarity and empowerment guide our work.
What problem does it aim to solve?
We aim both to change the cultural and socio-political context that allows and encourages the perpetuation of sexual violence and to offer attentive support to survivors who need time, listening, information and support to recover. Once the crisis situation is resolved, survivors can realize that sexual assault is not an isolated act to which they have contributed, but rather a tool of domination of systems of oppression (such as patriarchy, white supremacism, heterosexism, cissexism, classicism, colonialism, or ableism) and a consequence of their control.
We are also the only CALACS to have opened its services to all trans, Two-spirit and non-binary people, while between 47% and 66% of them have experienced sexual assault in their lives and the majority of them report that the available support services present a serious risk of discrimination and revictimization.
When did you start/join it?
West Island CALACS was founded in 2001, following the demands of women’s groups during the World March and in the wake of the Orientations gouvernementales en matière d’agression à caractère sexuel. Its establishment is in line with the CALACS’ history, taking roots in the 70s feminist movement and its commitment to providing victims with alternative resources to the police and court system. The West Island is then targeted as a territory in need.
How has it changed since you started?
The West Island CALACS’ team is proud to say a lot has changed since! In the winter of 2022, the Center made important decisions to resolve the remaining disparity between its commitment to intersectional feminism and some of its practices and policies. First, it changed its position on sex work. Moving away from the abolitionist approach that had previously been strongly criticized by the sex worker community and 2SLGBTQ2IA+, it adopted a position in favour of the decriminalization of sex work. Second, in 2023, its services are extended to all trans people, as well as non-binary and Two-Spirit people, recognizing that gender-based violence affects people across the gender spectrum. As these changes are not in alignment with the content of their statement of principles, the Centre resigned from the Regroupement québécois des Centres d’aides et de luttes contre less Agressions à Caractère Sexuel, not wishing to be associated with a movement and groups that do not share its values of inclusion. It is seriously committed to intersectional feminism and is undertaking many processes to ensure the safety of its services for all people of marginalized gender.
What made you want to get involved?
I am so excited about the changes we are implementing in our organization! It is high time that the feminist movement in Quebec finally updated itself to reflect the realities of all marginalized genders. Even more so, as a non-binary person, I am proud and humbled to be part of a project that will allow survivors in my community to get the care they have needed for far too long. The West Island CALACS’ anti-oppressive evolution gives me hope and fosters my ambition to invest my time and energy in its mission!
What more needs to be done?
5 years after the beginning of the #Metoo wave, sexual assault is still a dangerous, frequent, and trivialized reality for people of marginalized genders. Our waiting lists are very long and, to the best of our ability, we cannot provide for the demand. A radical cultural shift is needed, both, to start, with consensual sexuality and subsequently in the police and justice institutions that welcome
victims, as well as in the media that report their stories.
Internally, advocacy rooted in intersectionality requires a perpetual work of knowledge-building, self-reflection and evaluation. In that sense, we still have, and always will have, a lot of work to do to ensure that our services are evolving and relevant to the needs of all communities. We also hope that our work will serve as an example for other feminist organizations to follow in our footsteps, especially since we cannot meet the needs of all trans, non-binary and Two-Spirit survivors seeking support.
How can our readers help?
We are actively looking for activist members! The pandemic has made it difficult to maintain our activist base, which is crucial to our functioning, and we are now in the process of rebuilding it.
Are you looking to get involved in a concrete way in a feminist, queer, anti-racist and intersectional environment? We’re looking for women, trans, Two-spirit, and non-binary people who want to fight against sexual violence! The possible involvement is diverse and adapted to each person’s strengths and schedule – direct help, prevention, administration, event planning – anything is possible. Our Center would be nothing without its activists. Write a short presentation to email@example.com, we will find a place for you according to your interests and time to offer!
Do you have any events coming up?
Pour la Journée Internationale des Droits des femmes, le 8 mars, nous serons le 8 mars à la Marche
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
We want to take this opportunity to highlight the incredible work that the Refugee Center does, with whom we collaborate as part of the Monarch Project, our support program for precarious and non-status migrants. They offer holistic services for the refugee and immigrant population, from referrals and accompaniment to legal aid, academic support and employment, and so much more. They are efficient, knowledgeable, prompt and caring, we have nothing but good words about them and we are fortunate to call them our allies.