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Understanding Indigenous Women and Girls’ Experiences with Victimization and Violence

Indigenous women and girls are not only more likely to be a victim or survivor of crime compared with non-Indigenous women and girls, they are also at much higher risk of experiencing specific acts of violence. These include physical assault, sexual assault, and spousal violence.Footnote 91 Higher rates of violent victimization among Indigenous women and girls cannot be fully explained by risk factors usually associated with victimization, such as childhood maltreatment, social disorder in one’s neighbourhood, homelessness, drug use, or poor mental health. Even when controlling for these and other risk factors, it is clear that being Indigenous, in itself, is a risk factor for violent victimization of Indigenous women.Footnote 92

  • Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls

    Intimate partner violence is the most prevalent source of violent victimization against women, accounting for 45% of all violent incidents reported to the police.Footnote 93 Police-reported data indicate that women are more likely to experience violence perpetrated by a member of their family than by anybody else.Footnote 94 However, for Indigenous women and girls, the risk of experiencing family violence perpetrated by an intimate partner or another member of the family is much higher than for non-Indigenous women and girls and acts of violence are often more frequent and more severe.Footnote 95 While family violence and intimate partner violence are widespread threats to safety for Indigenous women and girls, violence outside the home and a high incidence of attacks from individuals that they may barely know is also a greater threat than it is for non-Indigenous women and girls.Footnote 96

  • Homicide

    Violent attacks against Indigenous women and girls are not only more frequent than those against non-Indigenous women and girls, they are also more likely to be lethal. Each year, Indigenous women and girls account for at least one-fifth to one-quarter of all female homicides in Canada; a homicide rate roughly between 4.5 and 7 times higher than all other women and girls, depending on the reporting year.Footnote 97 The difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women and girls is even more extreme in the North.Footnote 98

    According to research conducted by the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative,Footnote 99 Indigenous women are also more likely to be victims of intimate partner homicides with rates eight times higher than non-Indigenous women in Canada.Footnote 100 Authors of the report indicated that colonization, poor socio-economic status, systemic and interpersonal racism, and intergenerational violence may all largely contribute to these significantly higher rates.

  • Missing Indigenous Women and Girls

    In the vast majority of missing persons cases reported to police, there is no foul play involved and the individual is quickly found unharmed. However, efforts to correlate missing persons’ cases with homicides found that in as many as one-in-five homicides of women, the victim was previously reported to police as missing.Footnote 101 Indigenous women and girls are greatly overrepresented among long-term, unresolved missing persons cases.Footnote 102 Due to limitations in police data, it is likely that other cases of missing Indigenous women and girls may have been misidentified as non-Indigenous so the number of cases could be higher.Footnote 103

  • Protection from Violence

    For many Indigenous women and girls, particularly those living in remote and northern communities, there are no readily accessible options to escape violence in their own homes. Although some communities may have shelters, space and limited transportation options can have an impact on access. A lack of permanent or affordable long-term housing can also be a challenge.Footnote 104 The lack of nearby shelters and severe housing shortages in some communities, not only contributes to strains on the family, but also makes it harder to find temporary respite in the homes of family and friends.Footnote 105

    “The lack of culturally relevant programming and culturally safe places … can create significant barriers to Indigenous women and girls accessing these shelters and their services.” (NACAFV and QNW 2017)

    In addition, shelters may not be able to provide a culturally safe space for Indigenous women and shelters that are Indigenous-led are often under-resourced and over-burdened compared to shelters serving other communities. High occupancy rates and high staff turnover are also issues for shelters operating in the North. In the absence of accessible shelters, the severe and persistent crisis of overcrowded and inadequate housing in many Indigenous communities may mean that women have no place to escape violence.Footnote 106

  • Under-estimation of Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls

    Understanding the prevalence and nature of violence against Indigenous women and girls requires good data. There are, however, important data gaps that limit what we know about this issue.Footnote 107 For example, national police-reported crime statistics—with the exception of homicide data—are not currently available by Indigenous identity. That said, efforts are currently underway to address this gap.

    In July 2020, Statistics Canada and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police announced that they would be working together to enable police to report statistics on Indigenous people in police-reported crime statistics on victims and accused persons.Footnote 108 While this marks an important milestone in the development of Indigenous data, there are other challenges that are likely to continue to have an impact.

    Violence against women is generally under-reported, however, for Indigenous women and girls, there are additional barriers to reporting. For example, Indigenous women, who are at greater risk of having their children placed in state care, may be particularly concerned about engaging with authorities.Footnote 109 Studies have also found that biases have led to Indigenous people being seen as less worthy victims by the police, having their credibility questioned, and their requests for assistance ignored or not adequately supported.Footnote 110

    The lack of administrative data on the Indigenous identity of victims, and under-reporting to police, make surveys on victimization particularly important for understanding violence against Indigenous women and girls. That said, social surveys rely on the collection of data by telephone or online, and less frequently, in person. People who have less access to technology, or who work irregular hours may be harder to reach. This may include some Indigenous women, who as a group, experience greater socio-economic marginalization. Furthermore, many social surveys, including Canada’s largest national surveys on victimization, do not collect information on reserves, which further reduces the ability to understand how Indigenous women experience violent victimization.

    For these reasons, the actual rates of violent crime against Indigenous women and girls, and the disparity in comparison to non-Indigenous women and girls, are likely under-estimated.

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