Women be­gin the fight against sex­ual abuse,

Toronto Star - - NEWS -

When she was five, Melodie Casella, a mem­ber of Bri­tish Columbia’s Sechelt (Shishalh) First Na­tion, was sex­u­ally abused by her babysit­ter. Freda Ens, who grew up in the Haida com­mu­nity of Old Mas­sett Vil­lage, was even younger when she says her mother sold her for bot­tle of beer to an un­re­lated man.

The two women, who told their sto­ries to The Cana­dian Press, are, ac­cord­ing to experts and other vic­tims, just the tip of the ice­berg of ram­pant sex­ual as­saults on girls and women on re­serves that most vic­tims have been too afraid or ashamed of to re­port in the past.

But they are among a grow­ing move­ment of women de­ter­mined to shine a spot­light on the prob­lem with the hope that it can be the first step to­ward stop­ping the cy­cle of abuse.

They are right to speak out. But re­port­ing as­saults is eas­ier said than done in small, re­mote First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties where an abuser could be a rel­a­tive, a neigh­bour or even the chief or a coun­cil­lor who can with­hold hous­ing and other re­sources from your fam­ily if you com­plain.

Still, these women and many more are bravely com­ing for­ward and draw­ing the at­ten­tion of politi­cians, such as the na­tional chief of the As­sem­bly of First Na­tions, Perry Bel­le­garde, who says na­tive lead­ers and the com­mu­ni­ties them­selves have an obli­ga­tion “to ex­pose this to the light of day.”

That’s made more dif­fi­cult by the fact there has been lit­tle re­search done on the tragedy. But the few stud­ies there are in­di­cate that 25 to 50 per cent of girls younger than 18 have been sex­u­ally abused on re­serves. Even that may be con­ser­va­tive. The On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of Friend­ship Cen­tres has es­ti­mated the fig­ure is more likely 75 to 80 per cent.

What’s needed to end this tragic cy­cle of vi­o­lence, ac­cord­ing to experts and na­tive lead­ers?

Com­mu­ni­ties ac­knowl­edg­ing what hap­pened at res­i­den­tial schools, then tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the next gen­er­a­tion. More women and girls com­ing for­ward to re­port it. Abo­rig­i­nal lead­ers speak­ing out about it. In­vest­ment in stud­ies to find out how preva­lent it is, so Ot­tawa and in­dige­nous and women’s or­ga­ni­za­tions can be­gin to cre­ate pro­grams and set aside fund­ing to deal with it.

Mak­ing vic­tim sup­ports avail­able on all re­serves, even re­mote ones, so that women and girls don’t fall into a cy­cle of de­spair that leads to al­co­hol and sub­stance abuse and suicide.

In­deed, Jason Small­boy, deputy grand chief of the Nish­nawbe Aski Na­tion, which rep­re­sents 49 in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in north­ern On­tario, es­ti­mates that 80 to 90 per cent of al­co­hol and drug addiction on re­serves “is re­lated to sex­ual abuse.”

The veil of se­crecy is be­ing lifted. Now na­tive and non-na­tive gov­ern­ments must work to­gether to come up with the fund­ing needed for sup­ports, stud­ies and pro­gram­ming to halt this abuse in its tracks.

Women are tak­ing the first step to stop­ping sex­ual vi­o­lence on re­serves

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.