'Large structural issues' to blame for high rates of violence against Indigenous women: advocate
SUDBURY -- The numbers are heartbreaking. New data from Statistics Canada reveals that more than six in 10 Indigenous women report having been physically or sexually assaulted at some point during their lifetime, compared to more than four in 10 in non-Indigenous women.
"There’s always that initial emotional response that’s hard to hear for any of us in Canada or North America or wherever in the world, right -- tragic statistics," said Delaney Campbell, sexual assault and domestic violence counsellor at Noojmowin Teg Health Centre on Manitoulin Island. "My second reaction is not really surprised. It’s something that we see represented in our clinical experiences."
Campbell said she believes many factors contribute to these high numbers.
"Violence, power, control, these are very structural issues. They’re connected to even larger structural issues," she said. "So I think, oftentimes, we’re tempted to say we need more services -- which we do, it's certainly an issue, gaps in services, people not really being able or comfortable to reach out and ask for help from health care or other social services. That’s one issue, but I think there are larger structural problems that come from other social inequities, income inequities, lack of opportunity, lack of availability, lack of access to resources, all of these things compound."
Noojmowin teg means a place of healing in Ojibwe and Campbell said her original counselling and cultural support position for Anishinabek people in the Manitoulin District has been expanded to include forensic testing for those experiencing violence.
Before the Indigenous health centre received funding for the testing in January, the nearest place that offered it was in Sudbury.
"For people on the west end of Manitoulin, that can be a six- eight-hour round-trip. If you don’t have transportation, that’s just impossible," Campbell said about the distance some residents on the island would have to travel to get to Sudbury.
It was a huge barrier for survivors wanting to access the support, she said.
"So many people we were talking to were just like 'I'm not going to press charges. I’m not going to go to the hospital. It’s just too hard, I want to forget it ever happened,'" she said. "And this is making it a little bit more, I’d like to think a lot more, accessible for folks so that just this peace can be a part of the healing journey."
Accessibility to sexual assault evidence kits (SAEKs) is something that She Matters, an advocacy group for sexual assault survivors, is working hard to change.
As noted in research released by Statistics Canada (2018), Indigenous women and girls are affected by sexual violence at significantly higher rates. In a report released by She Matters in February 2021 titled Silenced: Canada's Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Accessibility Crisis, it was identified that there is limited access to not only evidence collection kits, but also to support services for survivors of sexual violence in Indigenous communities across Canada.
Rural and remote communities in particular experience significant gaps in accessing SAEKs and survivors in Indigenous communities across the country are often forced to travel several hours to access evidence collection or support services after experiencing sexual violence.
"She Matters notes the need to stand in unity with existing Indigenous organizations and groups advocating for enhanced support services and protections for Indigenous women and girls," said Jacqueline Ahmed, founder of She Matters, in a statement to CTV News.