More than half of people in territories say they've been sexually or physically assaulted

·3 min read

More than half of men and women in the territories have experienced at least one sexual or physical assault since the age of 15, according to a Statistics Canada report released this week.

The data were collected before the pandemic, in 2018, as part of a survey aimed at finding out more about gender-based violence.

Statistics Canada defines gender-based violence as violence "committed against someone based on their gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender." The recent report's results don't include intimate partner violence.

"This is not news," said Pertice Moffitt, an Aurora College researcher who specializes in sexual violence. "Unfortunately, we have a legacy of physical and sexual assault and it's very prevalent among rural women and particularly here in the North."

The Statistics Canada report says that in the territories, 52 per cent of women and 54 per cent of men reported having been sexually or physically assaulted at least once since they were 15 years old, and that 7.8 per cent of both men and women had experienced violence in the year leading up to the survey.

Higher proportion in North than in provinces

These proportions are much higher than those in the provinces, where 39 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men reported at least one assault since the age of 15.

Moffitt suggested that these findings reaffirm the harmful effects of colonialism and patriarchy on society.

"We have this history of oppression and unhealthy relationships," she said. "The way women were treated by men, so that patriarchy, and then the historical trauma, of course, from residential school and what happened in residential school and the intergenerational impact of that."


The report also says LGBTQ2+ people and women with physical or mental disabilities were among those most likely to report having been sexually assaulted since age 15. It says about half of Indigenous women (48 per cent) and men (50 per cent) reported this as well, proportions similar to Indigenous people in the provinces.

The report says more than half of non-Indigenous people in the North also reported an assault since age 15: 56 per cent of non-Indigenous women and 55 per cent of non-Indigenous men. In the South, these proportions were much lower: 38 per cent of non-Indigenous women and 35 per cent of non-Indigenous men.

Studies suggest underreporting

Statistics Canada notes that studies suggest intergenerational trauma from colonization and residential schools have led to a "normalization of violence," which could have led to underreporting assaults.

"There is fear and shame about reporting, and particularly about sexual violence," said Moffitt. "And then there is judgment."

Women and men were most likely to report having been assaulted since age 15 in the Yukon (61 per cent of both women and men), while reporting was least prevalent in Nunavut, with 42 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men saying they had been assaulted.

In the Northwest Territories, 52 per cent of women and 55 per cent of men reported violence since age 15.

'We need to consider trauma-informed approaches'

COVID-19 put some people in dangerous situations, said Moffitt. Directions to stay home meant that women and children may be stuck inside with their abuser.

Moffitt said research indicates that bad experiences in childhood can lead people to violence, and that "as we think about solutions and what we can do, we need to consider trauma-informed approaches ... or those adverse childhood experiences that have caused trauma."

She said talking goes a long way.

"We need to continue always, with young girls and young boys, talking about consent and talking about sexual violence awareness."