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

Part I: Literature Review (continued)

5. Prevalence of Aboriginal Victimization

Not only is the Aboriginal population over-represented as offenders, it is over-represented as victims of crime. Thirty five percent of Aboriginal people report being a victim of crime compared to 26% of non-Aboriginal people (Statistics Canada, 2001c). In terms of violent crime, Aboriginal people are nearly three times more likely to be victims than non-Aboriginal people (206 incidents of violent victimization per 1000 Aboriginal people versus 81 incidents per 1,000 non-Aboriginal population) Statistics Canada, 2001c), and Hylton (2002) found that Aboriginal people were five times more likely than the general population to have been the victim of sexual offending.

Chart 2: Violent Victimization Rates

Chart 2: Violent Victimization Rates

[Description of Chart 2]

Statistics Canada's (2001a and 2001c) reports are based on the findings of the 1999 General Social Survey (GSS), a survey focused on issues of criminal victimization. In particular, the 1999 GSS examined the risk of violent victimization and household victimization, fear of crime, the perception of victims towards the justice system, victims' use of social services, and it compares data by urban and rural areas.

Unfortunately, the main report (A Profile of Criminal Victimization: Results of the 1999 General Social Survey, 2001c) of this important and valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of victimization in Canada fails to provide comprehensive data on Aboriginal victimization. The report does provide some data on the prevalence of violent crime among Aboriginal people and the particular vulnerability of spousal violence experienced by Aboriginal women (three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women). However, other than these, the report does not provide data on the experiences of Aboriginal people for any of the other victimization issues. This is disturbing given the high prevalence of victimization experienced by Aboriginal peoples referred to in the report itself. The report also fails to include the unusually high prevalence of victimization among Aboriginal peoples in its Highlights Synopsis.

Similarly, the recently released Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (Trocmé et al., 2001) only briefly addresses Aboriginal specific data. It does not explain the significance of the findings or relate the Aboriginal specific data to the other variables studied in the report. We suggest that as a matter of social policy that government examine the shortcomings of their national studies and how specific analysis of the data related to Aboriginal peoples could be used to provide useful information about Aboriginal victimization issues. It may be that much new Aboriginal specific research need not be undertaken if only the data that already exists was more fully utilized from the Aboriginal perspective.

An example of a report that does provide comprehensive data is Statistics Canada's Aboriginal profile report (Statistics Canada, 2001a) regarding justice statistics. Data in this Aboriginal profile report indicate that Aboriginal peoples' level of fear of crime is relatively low notwithstanding that Aboriginal people experience high levels of victimization (Statistics Canada, 2001a). This finding is relevant to other findings in the literature that indicate there may be a normalization of violence in Aboriginal communities. If communities have normalized certain levels of violence, one could argue that it would be logical to have lower levels of fear of violence since it is to be expected anyway. We examine this issue later in our report.

Even more surprising is the finding from the GSS that the majority of Aboriginal peoples felt that crime in their neighbourhood was lower than in other areas of Canada. This is in contrast to data that suggest there are higher levels of victimization in Aboriginal communities, and that majority of the victims of Aboriginal offenders are Aboriginal themselves (Department of Justice Canada, 2000; La Prairie, 1995a ). For example, in a study concerning sexual assaults it was found that "Aboriginal sex offenders often committed their offences in Aboriginal communities, and almost all of their sexual offences were committed against members of their immediate or extended family" (Hylton, 2002, p. 75).

5.1 Urban Aboriginal Victimization

High rates of Aboriginal victimization is not just a serious problem in homogenous First Nations communities, but is also prevalent in urban centres (Hanselmann, 2001). In a Saskatchewan report, Quann and Trevethan (2000) found that Aboriginal people comprised 42% of all victims of violent crime in Prince Albert and Regina. La Prairie (2001) in reviewing data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS) found that Aboriginal people accounted for 8% of the incidents of victimization in Vancouver, but represented only 2% of the population.

Moreover, La Prairie (1995b) found in her study on urban Aboriginal victimization that, of the total sample, 66% reported having been personally victimized and that of this group 45% were victimized by Aboriginal offenders, 41% by non-Aboriginal offenders, and 14% were victimized by a combination of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders. Since Aboriginal people are only a very small minority in most urban centres, the rate of urban victimization of Aboriginal peoples raises serious concerns about the prevalence of Aboriginal victimization in urban centres compared to non-Aboriginal victimization. In particular, the reason that some Aboriginal women relocate from a rural or reserve community to the city is to escape violence in their home communities. Unfortunately, the safe haven of the city may prove to be anything but. However, with the exception of Carol La Prairie's study (1995a), there are few studies that explore victimization of Aboriginal peoples in urban centres.

5.2 Victimization of Aboriginal Women

Chart 3: Risk of Spousal Violence

Chart 3: Risk of Spousal Violence

[Description of Chart 3

Source: Statistics Canada, 2001a

While victimization of Aboriginal people is much higher than non-Aboriginal people, statistics show that it is Aboriginal women and children who are largely bearing the burden of victimization (Health Canada, 1996). The literature has consistently reported high rates of victimization of Aboriginal women in Canada (Proulx & Perrault, 2000; Hylton, 2002).[17]

In an early study, Aboriginal women were reported to account for as high as 80% of all victims of sexual assault (Ontario Native Women's Association [ONWA], 1989). The report also found that offenders were most likely to be Aboriginal men (ONWA, 1989).

Other studies are consistent with the ONWA findings of 1989. Although conducted on a small scale, Dumont-Smith and Sioui-Labelle (1991) found that 71% of an urban sample and 48% of a reserve sample of Oneida women experienced domestic assault. Bastien, Bastien, Eastman, and Wierzba (1990) found that 91% of Aboriginal women in a Lethbridge study had experienced family violence. McGillivray and Comaskey (1999) found that of the 26 Aboriginal women in their study, all but one had experienced wife abuse. La Prairie (1995a) in one of the largest studies of urban victimization found that of the 621 respondents, 74% experienced family violence. These and other studies summarized by Hylton (2002) consistently demonstrate high rates of family violence and sexual abuse within Aboriginal communities.

McIvor and Nahanee (1998) report that over one-third of Aboriginal men in federal prisons are sex offenders. Inuit women are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault (Levan, 2001). Sexual assault rates are 4-5 times higher in the north than in the rest of Canada (Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, 1993). This report by the Panel includes a chapter on Inuit women with many testimonials about their experiences.

It is violence in the domestic context that is the most pervasive form of victimization experienced by Aboriginal women. Statistics Canada (2001a) found 11% of Aboriginal women reported being assaulted by a current spouse and that Aboriginal women were three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to have been assaulted by a spouse in the five year period prior to the 1999 GSS survey.

In addition, Aboriginal women were more likely to experience severe, potentially life-threatening types of violence at the hands of their spouse. In a study of urban Aboriginal people, (La Prairie, 1995a) the same patterns were found to exist: more females were personally victimized than men (70% versus 60%), and the offenders were most often spouses, partners, or boyfriends. The level of violence against Aboriginal women has been characterized at levels that are of "epic proportions" (McGillivray & Comaskey, 1996). The prevalence of Aboriginal domestic violence is a serious issue and is examined more fully in Part 6 of this review.[18]

5.3 Youth Victimization

There is some evidence that youth victimization is a serious problem in Aboriginal communities (Kingsley & Mark, 2000). However, there is no comprehensive survey of Aboriginal youth victimization in Canada (Dion, 1999). The Statistics Canada Profile (2001a) does not provide a breakdown by age and does not address the issue of youth victimization. This omission may be partly explained by the fact that much of the literature categorizes victimization of Aboriginal youth and women within the category of family violence. For example, there is a considerable amount of literature that examines the staggering problem of Aboriginal child abuse within the framework of family violence. The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence (Health Canada, 1996) includes findings from Dumont-Smith and Sioui-Labelle (1991) that 40% of children in some northern communities were victims of family violence. A study by Bopp and Bopp (1998) found that sexual abuse among children was very high; half of females and one third of males had been victimized, usually by someone in their family or extended family.

Indeed, much of the literature on Aboriginal victimization is examined within the framework of family and domestic violence because of the very high prevalence of such victimization in this context. For this reason, chapter six, which is the first substantive discussion in this review, begins with an examination of family violence generally.

  • [17] The high rates of Aboriginal women victimization is not exclusively a Canadian issue. A review of American Indian victimization indicates that Indian women are the most susceptible to victimization in terms of homicide and sexual assault (RedBird, 1995).
  • [18] For the purposes of this review, "domestic violence" is analogous to family violence which is defined by the Department of Justice, Canada as violence "that includes the many different forms of abuse, mistreatment or neglect that adults or children may experience in their intimate, kinship or dependent relationships." (Department of Justice Canada, 2002, p. 1)
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