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Aboriginal Sexual Assault in Canada

Sexual Abuse on Native Indian reserves

Sexual assault and child sexual abuse are major challenges facing aboriginal native communities in Canada. Statistics show that aboriginal Canadians are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted, or the victims of child sexual abuse.

Canada has thousands of Indian reservations. These aboriginal communities tend to be very close in nature, where each individual in the community knows each other. Families that reside on Indian reservations are closely related by blood and heritage. Households also tend to be quite large.

Given the close proximity of people on reserves there is an increased reluctance for victims to report sexual assault and child sexual abuse. To report an incident to the police could create a significant riff in one’s family or community. Moreover, the culture on many native reserves arguably discourages sex victims from reporting crimes to the police. As a result, many sexual assaults go unreported.

Aboriginals are one segment of the Canadian population with relatively high birth rates. Unfortunately, many children in native reserves live in poverty with improper adult supervision. Alcohol and drug abuse rates in native communities is higher than elsewhere in Canada, which contributes to both their relative poverty and lack of adult supervision. Poor living conditions and a lack of proper adult supervision cause high rates of sexual assault on native reserves.

Aboriginal Sexual Assault Lawsuits

Aboriginal victims of sexual assault and child sexual abuse may be able to receive money in compensation for their losses. This includes money awarded to compensate for both pain and suffering and income losses.

While in some circumstances a settlement can be reached between the aboriginal sex assault victim and the assailant, there is a possibility that the case may also have to proceed to trial. A sexual assault civil trial is a separate proceeding from any criminal case against the assailant. While a criminal conviction is good evidence in support of a sexual assault lawsuit, it is not necessary.

The problem that many victims face is that despite being awarded a large amount of money to compensate them for the sexual abuse, the assailant does not have the financial means to pay the judgment. Many aboriginals on reserves live in government housing and have no income other than financial assistance. If the assailant has no assets, the victim may not be able to receive any money even if they are successful in court.

Depending on the facts of the case, it may be possible to hold the Indian band, a corporation, or the government vicariously liable to pay the victims. For instance, if the victim is sexually assaulted by their teacher, or another government employee, band, or corporation whose contact with the victim is related to their job, it may be possible to force the government or band council to pay the judgment.

Sexual Assault by Aboriginal Chiefs and Bands Leaders

Sometimes sexual assaults are committed by trusted band leaders and chiefs on Indian Reservations. In 2008, Chapel Island Chief Wilbert Marshall was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman for an alcohol related incident in a Dartmouth hotel room. As a result of this conviction, he lost his position as Chief of the band and was sentenced to prison.

When a Chief or band leader commits a sexual assault, victims may feel an additional pressure not to report it. They may fear stigma in the community, or that their story won’t be believed. Chiefs also have significant power in the community and victims may fear they will be punished or further abused for reporting the crime.

Alcohol Related Sexual Assault

Extremely high rates of alcohol and drug abuse in native communities across Canada has contributed significantly to higher rates of crime and sexual assault on Indian reservations.

Many victims of sexual abuse turn to alcohol and drugs as methods of coping with the pain of being victimized. Some sexual assault victims begin drinking at a very early age, which may turn into a lifelong problem. As a result, they may miss out on important educational and employment opportunities throughout the course of their lives.

The presence of alcohol and sexual abuse on aboriginal reserves is closely related in several ways including:

1) lowering inhibitions of assailants causing them to commit sexual offences;
2) rendering victims unable to consent to sexual activity;
3) being used as a coping mechanism for victims.

Alcohol related sexual abuse on native reserves is cyclical in nature and continues to expand. It not only causes sexual assaults to occur, but also leads to substance abuse problems for victims trying to escape their pain.

Indian Residential School Sexual Assault

In the 19th century, Canada’s government forced many aboriginal children into live in schools known as the “Residential School System”. The purpose of these schools was not only to provide a basic education, but also to teach the children how to integrate into white society.

These schools were poorly funded by the government and relied largely on forcing students to work to maintain school grounds. Residential Schools were not only unclean and overcrowded, the teachers and administrators of the schools subjected their students to various types of sexual abuse and mistreatment. The living conditions in residential schools were so poor that the level of disease and mortality rate for students was measurably higher than average (including death rates of up to 69%).

Residential schools forced powerless aboriginal children into an unsuitable living environment where they were abused both psychologically and physically. In recent years, it came to light that there was also a significant amount of sexual assault by teachers and administrative officials of these facilities. On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper both acknowledged and apologized for this abuse.

Given the sexual abuse that occurred, many former students who were sexually assaulted began to file sexual assault lawsuits against the government seeking compensation for the damages they have sustained. Given the vast number of claims, the Government eventually agreed to a class action style settlement agreement with these victims. While the vast majority of sexual abuse victims from residential schools have long since died, there are still survivors that may be eligible for financial compensation.

HIV/AIDS and Sexual Assault on Canadian Aboriginal Reserves

Indian reserves in Canada have a much higher rate of HIV/AIDS infection than the general population. This can be linked to numerous factors including high rates of alcohol and drug abuse, lack of education regarding safe sex, and higher poverty rates than elsewhere in the country.

The high rate of HIV on native reserves means that sexual assault victims are sometimes exposed to possible HIV infection as a result of the attack. This is particularly true when the sexual assault includes unprotected receptive anal intercourse, which carries by far the highest HIV transmission rate.

Disclaimer: All information on this page is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice or presumed to be completely accurate, or infinitely up to date. If you have questions regarding your case, please contact a local lawyer immediately because there are time limitations on civil claims. Failure to contact a local lawyer immediately could prevent you from making a claim.



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