This week, I would like to explore the correlation between disability, sexual assault, and aboriginal identity. Specifically, I am interested in beginning to understand why rates of disability and sexual assault are so high within Aboriginal communities. To begin, I think it’s important to see some of the shocking statistics relevant to this topic…
- In 2006, 3.8% of the total female population of Canada reported an Aboriginal identity (First Nations, Métis, or Inuit) (Robles Urquijo)
- Of these Canadian Aboriginal women, 24% reported having been assaulted by a current or former spouse (Scrim). Nearly one quarter of Aboriginal women were assaulted by their spouse, compared to only 7% of non-Aboriginal women. The graph below provides an illustration of these statistics (Scrim).
- Not only are Aboriginal people more likely to be victims of sexual assault, they are also more likely to be disabled. One study indicates that Aboriginal people have a disability rate that is double the national rate for adults and three times the national rate for people aged 15 to 34 (Scrim).
- Between 1993 and early 2002, the percentage of all reported AIDS cases attributed to Aboriginal people increased from 2% to 14% (Scrim). Aboriginal people living with HIV/AIDS are frequently victims of discrimination from their own communities as well as from the non-Aboriginal community.
- Connections between HIV and sexual violence among Aboriginal women, particularly through rape, abuse, and incest, have also been identified (Scrim).
First of all, what can be used to explain the high rates of victimization? One proposed theory is the matrix of domination. Systems of power of domination play a large role in the oppression of people in society. All types of inequality have a hierarchy. For example, white males have higher status than black females, and able-bodied persons have higher status than disabled persons. Systems of inequality intersect to form a matrix of domination. For example, an Aboriginal, disabled, lesbian would be marginalized in a variety of ways. There are many implications of these intersectional systems of power…
- People experience race, gender, class, and sexuality differently depending on their location in the matrix.
- People experience different forms of privilege and subordination depending on their location in the matrix.
- In the matrix of domination, the intersectional nature of hierarchies reinforces power differentials across all hierarchies (Eitzen, Zinn, and Smith 11-12).
In the matrix of domination, not matter what a person’s race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is, being disabled always takes away their power, putting them in a position where they must face multiple forms of oppression. This is relevant to the lives of Canadian Aboriginals because, as mentioned above, Canadian Aboriginals have disability rates that are three times higher than the national average.
Another proposed theory is the trauma theory. The trauma theory is often used by researchers to explain the high rates of Aboriginal victimization in Canada. Trauma theory suggests that the victimization of Aboriginal peoples happens to Aboriginal people as a society, rather than as individuals. It is a result of the colonization process through which communities lost control of their families and of their culture (Scrim). This theory is used to explain many types of victimization and violence, including family abuse and assault, alcoholism, suicide, sexual assault, and more. Trauma theory argues that these types of violence are symptoms of underlying traumatization.
Trauma theory can be used to partially explain the high rates of sexual assault in some Aboriginal communities, using the example of residential schools. Survivors of residential schools and their descendants alike report difficulty forming trusting relationships with their spouses and family members (Scrim). Violently lashing out at family members and partners is a symptom of the trauma endured in residential schools.
As I have briefly illustrated here, there is a strong correlation between Aboriginal identity, disability, and sexual assault in Canada. Although I cannot offer a solution to these deeply systemic problem, I can recommend that readers stay up to date on Aboriginal politics in Canada. For example, following the Idle No More movement, is a good step.
Eitzen, Stanley D., Maxine Baca Zinn, and Kelly Eitzen Smith. “Disability and Ableism.” Gender, Race, and Popular Culture Book 2. GNDS 125. Canada: Pearson Custom Library, 2013. 2-27. Print.
Robles Urquijo, Covadonga., Anne Milan. Canada. Statistics Canada.Female Population. 2012. Print. <http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11475-eng.htm>.
Scrim, Katie. Canada. Department of Justice. Aboriginal Victimization in Canada: A Summary of the Literature. 2006. Print. <http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/rs/rep-rap/rd-rr/rd3-rr3/p3.html>.