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

Part I: Literature Review (continued)

7. Victimization of Aboriginal Peoples with Disabilities

In this section we examine the concerns and issues of Aboriginal peoples with disabilities and their increased susceptibility to victimization due to their vulnerability as a result of having disabilities. We examine this issue generally and focus more specifically on the victimization of Aboriginal peoples with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder. In addition, we discuss in a separate section the increased risk of HIV/AIDS Aboriginal peoples face due to the levels of sexual victimization.

7.1 General Overview

Victimization of Aboriginal peoples with disabilities is increasingly recognized as a concern. For example, Disabled Women's Network (DAWN) has sponsored a number of studies and reports examining the issue of Aboriginal women's abuse and violence (see Doucette, 1987; Farrar and Pope, 1996; Elias and Demas, 2001). However, other than these few DAWN sponsored studies and a few government studies (Federal Task Force on Disability Issues, 1996), there is little research on Aboriginal peoples with disabilities, let alone specific research on their victimization experiences. The studies that do exist indicate that victimization of women with disabilities is a serious problem, but it is one that has not been the subject of much attention in research. The Human Resources and Development Canada (2002) publication Policy Directions to Guide Future Action reports that Aboriginal peoples have a disability rate that is double the national rate for adults and three times the national rate for 15-34 year olds. There is some recent evidence that Aboriginal women with disabilities are at an increased risk of being victimized (National Crime Prevention Centre, 2000).

RCAP heard from a number of Aboriginal peoples about their victimization including Aboriginal women with disabilities. One account of Aboriginal people's experiences with disabilities was described as follows:

As far as Aboriginal people with disabilities [are concerned] … we are less recognized and the most violated against by both races, both sexes, and both communities. We are raped by disabled men; we are raped by disabled women; we are raped by Aboriginal women; we are raped by Aboriginal men; we are raped by white women; we are raped by white men. And believe you me we have been raped by our medical attendants, doctors, nurses, occupational therapists — you name it, we've had it. We know what it is like to be down low, but for God's sake, you don't have to keep us there either'. (J. Johnny, November 18, 1992 as cited in RCAP, 1996d, p. 56).

These charges are very serious and increased attention is needed to understand and learn more about the victimization of Aboriginal people with disabilities. We would like to now examine the specific case of victimization of those with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder.

7.2 Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

One area that has been the subject of increased attention is the area of FASD. According to research, individuals with FASD are at an increased likelihood to be in trouble with the law. Streissguth et al (1996) studied 415 individuals with FASD in British Columbia. Overall, 60% of such individuals aged 12 and over had been in trouble with the law.

Offenders with FASD have a mental disorder that puts them at risk to commit crime. Thus, they are in need of treatment as opposed to punishment. However, many courts are frustrated and at a loss as to what to do because of the lack of therapeutic services for such offenders (R. v. C.J.M., 2000). The words of Judge Trueman in C.J. M. are illustrative of this frustration:

In all cases of brain injury, however caused, permanent or otherwise, there exists the proven advantage of early intervention, to maximize social skills and shape behaviour. To incarcerate an individual in a prison setting that fails to recognize FAS, and fails to accommodate those with the disability, is to further the development of socially maladaptive behaviours that occur from forcing those with compromised mental functions to respond daily in a hostile environment. This is not only detrimental to them, but to the rest of society when they are ultimately released. (para. 82)

Research in this area shows that individuals with FASD are also highly vulnerable to victimization. According to a study referred to by Boland, Burrill, Duwyn and Karp (1998), 86% of individuals with FASD were neglected, 52% had a history of physical abuse and 35% had a history of sexual abuse. Although the disorder affects anyone in society, it is of great concern to the Aboriginal community because of studies that indicate a significant over-representation of Aboriginal people with FASD. In a study of offenders sentenced in the criminal justice system by Chartrand and Forbes-Chilibeck (2002), 39 reported cases were identified in which the offender being sentenced had a diagnosis of FASD or suspected FASD. Of the 39 cases, 25 of them were confirmed to be Aboriginal offenders, 4 non-Aboriginal and 10 unknown. This figure is consistent with other research that has reported that Aboriginal over-representation of individuals with FASD is as high as 10 times the national rate (Phillips, 1999).

Research shows that FASD individuals are at a great risk of being victimized and are more likely to be in conflict with the law and as the above research shows, Aboriginal peoples are disproportionately affected by FASD. Yet, there is no research that examines the extent of victimization of Aboriginal people with FASD. This is a serious research gap given the extent of victimization by those most vulnerable in Aboriginal communities and the extent of this disability in the Aboriginal community.

In one sense the increased awareness of FASD and its prevalence within Aboriginal society can act as a competing theory for the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system with other theories of why there is such over-representation. For example, the social and behavioural symptomology of FASD individuals is very similar to those identified by Health and Social Services and referred to in the report by ANAC (2001) which are said to be the effects of child exposure to violence in the family. The diagnosis of FASD is very difficult and there is still no standardized diagnostic approach that has the approval of the medical profession. The possibility of false diagnosis is a factor to consider (Tait, 2002). There is a danger of over-diagnosis of FASD among Aboriginal offenders given the prevalence of domestic violence in Aboriginal communities and the common symptomology between FASD offenders and those who have experienced violence or who have been exposed to violence. Even a cursory review of the case law where the offender was diagnosed as having FASD or suspected of having FASD there is in almost every case acknowledgment that the offender was abused as a child (Chartrand & Forbes-Chilibeck, 2002).

7.3 Victimization of Aboriginal Peoples with HIV/AIDS

The literature on the issues that Aboriginal people with HIV/AIDS face show that there are serious concerns with increased risk of victimization particularly due to increased risk of sexual assault and the prevalence of discrimination of people with HIV/AIDS from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.

The work by Matiation (1995, 1999a, 1999b) is particularly informative. In one report, Matiation (1995) draws a number of connections between the effects of colonization through increased sexual violence on Aboriginal peoples in Canada and the increased risk of HIV infection, particularly Aboriginal women. Examples include higher rates of violence in Aboriginal communities compared with non-Aboriginal communities and generally poor health status prevalent among many Aboriginal communities and the increased risk of HIV infection. The role of government and the role of religious institutions in increasing sexual violence are referenced.

The need to identify violence against women directly as a prerequisite to reducing the risk/incidence of HIV/AIDS in Aboriginal women also is discussed. Matiation notes that high rates of sexual and physical abuse are also risk factors for the transmission of HIV/AIDS. This is further aggravated by the inappropriate depiction of AIDS in terms of blame and personal responsibility. Neron and Roffey (2000) in their article also address connections between HIV and sexual violence among Aboriginal women, particularly through rape, abuse and incest. Other factors contributing to HIV risk among Aboriginal women are also explored.

Although the literature identifies sexual victimization as a serious problem because of the connection between high risk of HIV/AIDS and the prevalence of high rates of physical and sexual violence in Aboriginal communities, there are very few quantitative studies to verify these conclusions. One study, however, does provide some indication of the extent of the problem. Ratnam and Myers (2000) presents the findings of a series of interviews conducted with 69 individuals living in seven communities in Labrador. Respondents were either service providers or community members. Some respondents identified a number of social problems as being of greater importance and concern to the community than HIV/AIDS. These factors were basic needs (i.e., housing, food), unemployment, poverty (including child poverty), child neglect, domestic and child violence, gas sniffing, suicide and alcoholism. Nonetheless, among the study's conclusions is that women were identified as being at particular risk for HIV for a number of reasons including that "many women" are victims of rape, abuse and domestic violence. The respondents generally perceived victims of rape, abuse and incest as having no control over what happens to them (Ratnam & Myers, 2000).

Aboriginal people living with HIV/AIDS are frequently victims of discrimination from their own communities as well as from non-Aboriginal society (Matiation, 1995). The increasing prevalence of HIV/AIDS in federal institutions is also of concern to Aboriginal people given that Aboriginal people are over-represented in Canadian prisons.[26] Matiation also considers the increased risk of HIV/AIDS amongst Aboriginal youth, particularly Aboriginal youth that are street-involved. Risks identified include IV drug use and prostitution. This concern for youth being at increased risk was attributed to the prevalence of poverty (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network [CHALN] & Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Nework [CAAN], 1999). This report argues that poverty results in young people heading for cities where they become street-involved and often are engaged in sex and drug-related activities.

Monette, Albert, and Waalen (2001), also argue that the same pattern that leads youth to the streets exists with respect to two-spirited men[27]. However, in addition to poverty being a precipitating factor, the prevalence of discrimination is a major factor. Monette and colleagues (2001) conducted a survey which found that two-spirited people experience hostilities within their communities and that in an effort to escape such hostilities, they go to large urban centres. Lack of education and experience frequently leads to two-spirited people, particularly youth, becoming street-involved. This, in turn, frequently leads to high risk of victimization and self-destructive behaviour. Respondents to the survey were exposed to a myriad of negative social influences including racism, homophobia, physical abuse, sexual abuse, gay bashing, partner abuse, abuse specifically because they were gay or were perceived to be gay, ridicule, poor housing and poverty. Fear of discrimination is among a number of factors cited that make two-spirited people reluctant to access social services to address these factors.


  • [26] This view that Aboriginal inmates are at a greater risk of HIV infection has been supported by at least two reports (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 1999; Matiation, 1999). However, a review of the research of Aboriginal people with HIV/AIDS by the Northern Health Research Unit of the University of Manitoba (1998) documented one study that found that "Aboriginal inmates are not at a greater risk of HIV infection but are less likely to test for HIV than non-Aboriginal inmates." (p. 22)
  • [27] The term "two-spirited" refers to lesbian and gay Aboriginal people.
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