Concordia works with Hoodstock to help support survivors of sexual violence in Montreal North
When Marlihan Lopez worked as a liaison agent and coordinator of the equity, diversity, inclusion division of the Quebec Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, systemic disparities quickly became apparent to her.
She and other community organizers have spent years advocating for more support for sexual assault survivors in Montreal North.
“Systemic racism also manifests itself through the absence of services or through the existence of barriers that exclude Black and racialized communities from accessing health and social services,” says Lopez, who is now program and outreach coordinator for Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute.
“In Montreal North, survivors of sexual violence don’t have access to culturally sensitive and secure services that respond to the needs and realities of its residents. Survivors deserve accessible and secure services that centre their needs and realities.”
Lopez is co-leading a new project — Agir contre les violences sexuelles: partenariat entre Concordia et Hoodstock à Montréal Nord — in collaboration with Nathalie Batraville, assistant professor of women’s studies at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute. Other institute faculty and students are also playing key roles.
‘The needs of victims are defined by those who deliver services’
Lopez explains that many survivors of sexual violence still do not have adequate access to health and social resources and services in Quebec, while much of what is available is not tailored to and excludes Black, Indigenous or LGBTQ communities, disabled survivors and others at the margins.
The project’s goal is to build the infrastructure for developing these types of supports, services and resources needed by women living in Montreal North who have experienced sexual violence.
It also aims to reinforce the capacity of community organizations to respond to sexual violence, through training and workshops, and develop prevention programs for local high schools where greater understanding of the role of intersectionality in exposing women to higher risk of sexual violence is necessary.
“The power dynamics that inform mainstream service provision hinder rape crisis centres’ capacity to serve Black and racialized women,” Lopez says.
“Until the infrastructure of support acknowledges historical and ongoing inequities, Black, Indigenous and racialized women will continue to be overrepresented as victims of sexual violence and underrepresented as service users. This is why having resource and support services by and for all survivors of sexual violence is extremely important.”
Hoodstock: community anchor and project home in Montreal North
Lopez and Batraville are partnering with embedded community partner Hoodstock.
Nargess Mustapha is a community organizer and co-founder of Hoodstock, while Kharoll-Ann Souffrant was hired to participate in the project as a researcher. Souffrant is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in social work at the University of Ottawa. Her thesis project looks at sexual violence against Black women in Quebec.
Hoodstock was founded in 2009 after police shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva. Its goal remains to fight injustices such as systemic racism by creating spaces for dialogue and community-based initiatives that address and fight systemic inequities.
“There is not only a strong and urgent need for frontline services for victims of sexual assault but also a need for prevention programs and resources directed at youth. These programs must be rooted in approaches that are culturally relevant and appropriate for Montreal North’s highly racialized and immigrant population,” Mustapha says.
“When services are designed and delivered without centring the needs of survivors, in this case, Black and racialized survivors, what they receive is not care — it’s an additional layer of alienation and trauma.”
Souffrant echoes these points.
“Many survivors of sexual violence are not believed and this remains especially true for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. One way of changing this is to ensure that these women are involved and centred in the design and offer of services. And that’s what we’re working toward. By centring those voices, I do believe that it can become beneficial for society as a whole,” she says.
“Since these populations live at the intersections of various forms of oppression and marginalization, they have a keen understanding on how to radically transform society for the common good.”
Office of Community Engagement lends initial funding
Financing to launch the project came through a community-based experiential learning initiative of Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement. Andrea Clarke (BSc 09, MSc 12, MBA 16), the university’s senior director of community engagement and social impact, recognizes the importance of the initiative.
“Funding from Concordia will facilitate the critical work being done by our partners, but what is needed is long-term funding from local government to establish a permanent resource centre in Montreal North,” Clarke says.
Lopez concurs. “Securing long-term financial support is crucial for the longevity of this project and for adequately addressing sexual violence in Montreal North,” she says.
“We’re also developing resources that could be used later to address the needs of residents who live in highly racialized and immigrant boroughs and neighbourhoods like Parc-Extension and Côte-des-Neiges.”
To learn more about the Agir contre les violences sexuelles project, get involved or assist with funding or grant writing, contact Marlihan Lopez at email@example.com.
Take part in the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence activities that run from November 25 to December 10.