A Review of Research on Criminal Victimization and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples 1990 to 2001


We appreciate the research assistance provided by Melissa Gus, Susan Haslip, Robert Lemke and Sandeep Prasad. In addition, we are thankful for the detailed feedback provided by Anna Paletta, Naomi Giff and Tawnye Plewes to earlier drafts, and for the insight provided by Naomi Giff, Anna Paletta, Tawnye Plewes, Michelle Grossman and Christine Wright at the outset of this research project. We would also like to thank the Policy Centre for Victim Issues and the Research and Statistics Division of the Department of Justice Canada for providing support for this project.

Executive Summary

This literature review discusses criminal victimization among First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada in order to identify the research needs of these populations. The review begins with a contextual and statistical overview of the victimization of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The data shows that Aboriginal victimization is disproportionately higher than for Canadians generally. Moreover, personal violence experienced by Aboriginal women, children and individuals with disabilities is particularly striking. The perpetrators of such violence are most often spouses, relatives and friends of the victims. Studies reporting victimization rates of Aboriginal women in the area of 80-90% are commonplace.

The issue of under-reporting victimization by Aboriginal people to criminal justice authorities is also discussed. Rates of under-reporting victimization are considered high in Aboriginal communities ranging from 40-75%. Several factors may contribute to this high rate of under-reporting, such as the "normalization of violence", lack of victim services to access in order to report victimization and a lack of culturally appropriate services where they do exist. Thus, although there may be high rates of victimization as demonstrated in self-disclosure surveys, the actual reporting of such victimization may be disproportionately low. Some explanations of under-reporting in Aboriginal communities are addressed in the literature.

The particularly high rates of victimization among Aboriginal women, youth and people with disabilities are examined individually. Domestic violence, the impact of childhood experiences of abuse, sexual exploitation of Aboriginal youth and youth gang involvement are documented. In particular, some of the research traces a link between childhood experiences of victimization and subsequent involvement in violence either as a perpetrator or as victim in adulthood. In terms of people with disabilities, the particular issues of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD) and people living with HIV/AIDS are examined as they relate to victimization. The literature shows that these groups are especially vulnerable to victimization.

Explanations for such high rates of victimization are varied but the predominate view links high victimization to the overall impact of colonization and the resultant collective and individual "trauma" and its impacts that flows from cultural disruption. Furthermore, the need to break the cycle of family violence that has become internalized is identified throughout the literature as a critical step in reducing criminal victimization.

The benefits and shortcomings of alternative dispute resolution processes such as Aboriginal diversion and circle-sentencing programs for addressing Aboriginal victimization are identified in this review. Some comprehensive Aboriginal healing processes are examined. From a victim perspective adequate protection of abused Aboriginal women and children are integral to the program design. We also briefly examine the provision of victim services. The need for culturally relevant services, particularly in northern communities, for Aboriginal victims of crime was identified in the literature.

The summary of existing research provides a basis on which to develop future research projects that are culturally appropriate for Aboriginal peoples and discusses appropriate methodological best practices. Although there are some national statistics documenting the extent of Aboriginal victimization generally, there are few studies that systematically examine the prevalence community by community or Aboriginal group by Aboriginal group. Mainstream statistics tend to be overly general.

There is considerably more information on status Indian victimization than on non-status, Métis or Inuit. Moreover, there is a serious lack of information on certain groups such as youth and those with disabilities. Other needs include a further and more detailed understanding as to why there is such a high level of under-reporting of crime within Aboriginal communities. The impact of Aboriginal alternative justice processes in meeting the needs of victims and their ability to reduce the rate of victimization needs to be assessed. To date, most assessments and analysis have been undertaken from the perspective of the offender.

The literature leads to a conclusion that Aboriginal peoples are being re-victimized by colonization – this time indirectly as colonization is turned inside out by Aboriginal peoples victimizing themselves and where women and children bear the brunt of such trauma. We need to get a real handle on the nature and scope of Aboriginal victimization. The existing literature tells us that there is a serious problem in Canada. The levels of Aboriginal victimization are simply unacceptable on any standard. Thus, the need for more reliable and targeted research and knowledge to advance appropriate policies responses has never been more pressing.

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