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

5. Exploring the Relationship of Offence and Offender’s History of Abuse

As discussed in Section 1 above, this research was particularly interested in examining the relationship between the offence and the offender’s own personal history of abuse in order to better understand the processes that lead to such crimes. There is a caveat in research here as the linkage examined is between individuals; however, the linkage is ultimately based on historical consequences as discussed in the findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peopled (1996 and 1994). The data themselves were gathered as individual outcomes within a broader context of ongoing personal, as well as historic and social, realities. This is not so much a data limitation of this study only per se, as it is a parameter of social science research in general.

To study this link, data were gathered on factors that typically result in personal trauma, namely, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and/or psychological abuse, as well as indications of substance abuse. Data on these were collected as reported in the Crown Prosecutor files. It is likely that data on the accused’s personal history of abuse was not always included in the Crown Prosecutor files as the purpose of prosecution is to establish current wrongdoing of perpetrators, and not their past victimizations. Therefore, these data are likely under-reported in the files themselves.

Nevertheless, the data from this research indicate that 66% of those accused of a sexual assault offence had suffered at least one form of violent abuse in their personal history. For family violence accused, it was higher at 77%. These findings indicate that a personal history of violence is a factor in the dynamics of family violence offences and sexual assault offences among these Aboriginal accused.

Given the relationship between Aboriginal individuals’ personal history of abuse and subsequent violent offending, one would expect the same link between offence and offender’s history of abuse among non-Aboriginal offenders as well. In the file review conducted here, the relationship does hold for the non-Aboriginal territorial offenders.[10] Where 66% of First Nations, Inuit, and/or Métis, sexual assault accused in the territories had a personal history of violence, so did 59% of non-Aboriginal sexual assault accused. For family violence offenders, where 77% of Aboriginal family violence accused had a history of abuse, 73% of non-Aboriginal family violence accused did as well. These data indicate that over two thirds of sexual assault offenders and over three quarters of family violence offenders likely have suffered a personal history of abuse.

These findings are in keeping with the findings of previous research. Bonta, LaPrairie, and Wallace-Capretta’s (1997) assessment of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal risk and needs in the prediction of recidivism write that their most important finding was that a risk/needs classification instrument originally developed on a sample of non-Aboriginal offenders demonstrated predictive validity among Aboriginal offenders, which implies that risk factors are similar for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders.

Table 19: Percentage of accused with at least one form of victimization by type of offence, by Aboriginal status
Aboriginal Accused Non-Aboriginal Accused Total
Sexual assault 66% 59% 65%
Family violence 77% 73% 76%

This relationship has implications for understanding findings such as the higher rates of spousal violence among Aboriginal Peoples. Statistics Canada’s 2004 General Social Survey on Victimization found that 19% of all Aboriginal people in the territories experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by a current or previous spouse, in comparison to 8% among non-Aboriginal territorial residents over the same five year period (de Léséleuc and Brzozowski 2006). In the provinces, 21% of Aboriginal people in the provinces reported having experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by a spouse or partner in the five years preceding the survey, as did 6% among non-Aboriginal people in the provinces (Brzozowski et. al. 2006). The research completed in this current study using Crown Prosecutor files indicates that an offender’s personal history of victimization is a factor in understanding the dynamics of violent offences.

A cycle of violence is further evidenced in the findings of the high rates of repeat offending. The majority of the territorial accused had at least one prior conviction for a violent offence. This includes 69% of those accused of a sexual assault and 79% of those accused of a family violence offence. Table 20 provides the data for most relevant prior convictions. As this table points out, some violent offenders had prior convictions for both types of violent offences, and assault was the most common prior violent conviction for both types of offenders.

Table 20: Prior convictions of accused, by type of offence
Prior convictions: Sexual assault accused Family violence accused
Sexual assault 24% 9%
Family violence 14% 37%
Assault 44% 58%

Individuals accused of a sexual assault offence who had a prior conviction had, on average, 11 prior convictions in both Nunavut and NWT. The average number in the Yukon was higher at 15. The median number of prior convictions was seven for both Nunavut and NWT and 10 for the Yukon. Individuals accused of a family violence offence were very similar to those accused of sexual assault with 11 prior convictions, on average, for both Nunavut and NWT and 14 for Yukon, and medians similar at 6, 9 and 10 respectively.

In keeping with cycles of violence and the high numbers of prior convictions, a number of the individuals accused of a sexual assault or family violence offence were also on probation or parole at the time of the current offence. This included 20% of those accused of a family violence offence and 17% of those accused of a sexual assault offence. In addition 16% of the family violence accused had outstanding charges, as did 15% of those accused of a sexual assault offence. These findings underscore Judge Stuart ‘s discussion in his sentencing of M.N.J.(supra) In his discussion, he writes that:

[10] Note: The sample total of 1,474 Crown Prosecutor files include 29 non-Aboriginal sexual assault accused and 67 non-Aboriginal family violence accused.

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