Governments aren’t responding to sexual abuse among Inuit, Pauktuutit says
“Pauktuutit stands with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse”
Despite evidence that suggests more than half of all adult Inuit women suffered severe sexual abuse during childhood, governments are still not responding to the issue, says Pauktuutit, the national Inuit women’s organization.
“Unfortunately, the response from the government around this issue has been minimal with no plan for collective action,” Pauktuutit said in a statement issued last week on April 25.
Pauktuutit released the statement in the wake of revelations that Igloolik business owner Ike Haulli sexually abused children for years, between 1968 and 1986.
Pauktuutit pointed to evidence that reveals staggering amounts of child sexual abuse in Inuit communities, such as that in the 2007-08 Inuit Health Survey, which found that in Nunavut, 52 per cent of women and 22 per cent of men said they suffered severe sexual abuse as children.
And they cited a 2012 report by Statistics Canada that found that the rate of sexual offences against women and children in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories is the highest in Canada.
Pauktuutit also said violence and abuse is so common in some communities, it’s been normalized.
For that reason, and many others, victims are reluctant to disclose abuse.
“Victims can experience immense pressure to not report the abuse for many reasons including keeping the perpetrator out of prison. In other cases, the family may be dependent on the abuser as the breadwinner or head of the household and may fear that disclosure could deeply harm her family’s social and financial status,” the statement said.
Also last week, Justice Neil Sharkey, the senior judge of the Nunavut court, delivered the same message when he sentenced ex-teacher Johnny Meeko of Sanikiluaq to an eight-year prison sentence for sexually abusing children between 1972 and 2007.
In his judgment, Sharkey said the family members of child abusers, along with others, make it easy for sexual predators like Meeko to act with impunity.
“There is, in my view, a culture of silence prevalent throughout Nunavut, whereby sometimes family members of an abuser and even some other right-thinking members of the community essentially bury their heads in the sand—like ostriches—and remain oblivious to the activities of a sexual predator in their midst,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey also criticized parents who tell abused children to keep quiet about their abuse for the sake of preserving community harmony: “by failing to bring such abuse to the attention of the authorities, these same parents are sacrificing their own children, usually little girls, to a lifetime of recurrent trauma and dysfunction,” he said.
But Sharkey praised Pauktuutit for playing an important role in educating communities about sexual abuse and for educating a new generation of young women on how to deal with and report sexual abuse.
In its statement, Pauktuutit listed numerous other barriers to the reporting of child sexual abuse in Inuit communities:
• A lack of privacy, “due to the high likelihood that police, health professionals and frontline service providers know both the victim and perpetrator.”
• Widespread fear, related to the lack of anonymity, causing victims to “fear that they be met with stigma, shame, community gossip and inadequate personal safety and protection.”
• Fear that the perpetrator will not be held accountable.
• A shortage of trained Inuit frontline service providers and high turnover among non-Inuit service providers.
• A lack of culturally appropriate counselling and support services, due to geography, lack of infrastructure, lack of staff, as well as language and culture barriers.
Pauktuutit pointed to the strategic plan on Inuit violence and healing that they released in 2016, which included materials on child sexual abuse.
They also referred to a Pauktuutit program called Engaging Men and Boys in Reducing Violence against Women and Girls, or Pilimmaksarniq.
One objective of that program is to dismantle “harmful values and beliefs” that tolerate violence against women and girls,” Pauktuutit said.
“Pauktuutit stands with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. We recognize the courage and strength it takes for adults and children to talk about child sexual abuse and deeply commend those who have chosen to disclose,” the statement said.