Introduction - Understanding Family Violence and Sexual Assault in the Territories, First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples

1. Introduction

1. Introduction

Research on family violence and sexual assault offences was undertaken in the territories for a number of reasons. Chief among them are the system responses to these crimes of violence and the insight of the work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People which provides a framework for understanding such offences.

A significant finding of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP 1996) was the high level of violence in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. The 1996 report of the Commission noted that:

In the midst of devastating revelations of the violence suffered daily by Aboriginal people, frequently at the hands of the men in their families, we were urged to recognize that men are victims too. …Revelations of the extent of sexual abuse of both boys and girls in residential schools, the fact that victims of abuse often become abusers, and the shame that leads men in particular to hide these experiences are all coming to the fore. Aboriginal people in the health care field now believe that Aboriginal men have suffered more sexual abuse as children than previously believed, and they are, in all probability, as devastated by these experiences as women have been. (p. 57)[1]

Research undertaken following the RCAP reports, such as, Lane Jr, Bopp and Bopp (2003), Brant Castellano (2006), and Chartrand and McKay (2006), among others,[2] have further investigated this link between violent behaviour and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples as victims and offenders, and the offenders’ own personal and collective histories of violence.Chartrand and McKay (2006) in their work on victimization and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples concluded that:

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 (p. v).

Lane Jr. et. al (2003), in their undertaking to develop a comprehensive theoretical framework in which to understand the dynamics of this violence, write that “this body of research, theories and models all point to the same general conclusion - family violence and abuse in Aboriginal communities has its roots, at least in part, in historical trauma and in the social realities created by those historical processes” (p. 22). They argue that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is the effect of these processes on individuals.[3] Based on this, they develop a theoretical framework within which PTSD is a key component. They write:

Domestic violence and abuse are almost always linked to trauma in several ways. Certainly, abuse causes trauma in victims, as well as in children witnessing violence. But, domestic abuse is also and most often the result of intergenerational trauma. So, trauma is both one of the primary causes and principle outcomes of domestic violence and abuse. (p. 10)

The research undertaken here further investigates this link. It focuses specifically on territorial data because of the high rates of crimes of violence there. In 2005, the police reported that the sexual assault rate in Canada overall was 7.2 per 10,000 population; in the territories, rates ranged from a high of 79.7 per 10,000 in Nunavut to 40.7 in NWT and 18.1 in the Yukon (Gannon 2006). The objective of this research is to further the understanding of the specifics of the current dynamics of violent offences ultimately in order to better understand how best to mitigate them.

This research was motivated, as well, by court findings and decisions along with the expressions of concern about the efficacy of the system responses to these crimes of violence. Of relevance here is His Honour Chief Judge Barry Stuart’s discussion at sentencing M.N.J., a young, Aboriginal, violent, sex offender (Yukon Territory Court 2002). Judge Stuart writes:

In his Initial Comments, Chief Judge Barry Stuart writes:

This depth of concern has been echoed by a number of Crown Prosecutors in the north. Rupert Ross, Assistant Crown Attorney with primary responsibility for conducting prosecutions in some 20 remote fly–in Aboriginal communities in north-western Ontario, writes:

[the] first line of social response to these symptoms of community, family and individual traumatisation is, unfortunately, the criminal justice system, and it is my growing conviction that it is substantially incapable of responding productively in this context of unique and deep-seated traumatisation, for a wide variety of reasons.

… domestic violence has reached frightening levels in some communities, but prosecution is almost impossible. For one thing, poverty, derelict housing and large families impose hardships on abused women that they can seldom endure on their own. The majority of abused women who see their husbands taken out to jail find themselves incapable of hauling wood and water on their own, as well as feeding and clothing children – and keeping the drunks at a safe distance at night. On a routine basis they are forced to conclude that his abuse is preferable to his absence, and they refuse to support a prosecution that will result in his removal.[4]

This is the socio-legal context within which a majority of these crimes of violence occur; while the offences are harsh, so too are the histories of the offenders.

1.1 Structure of Report

Following the discussion of the methodology for the research conducted here, the report begins with the data of the demographic characteristics of those accused of a sexual assault or family violence offence in the territories. It then follows the incidents through the criminal justice process. The final sections provide an analysis of the link between the offences and offenders’ history of abuse.

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