Unwanted sexual behaviour in public places less common in Nunavut than N.W.T, Yukon: StatCan

Survey results are counterintuitive, given Nunavut’s sky-high sexual assault rates

Nunavut residents reported fewer cases of unwanted sexual behaviour in public spaces than their Yukon and N.W.T counterparts in a national survey conducted by StatCan in 2018. That’s at odds with Nunavut’s sexual assault rate, which is the highest in the country. A new StatCan report offers some explanations for these puzzling results. (Image courtesy of StatCan)

By John Thompson

Given how Nunavut leads the country with its rate of reported sexual assaults, you might expect to find similar results in a new Statistics Canada report that looks at unwanted sexual behaviour in public places.

But that’s not the case. Instead, the report, released on Aug. 26, found that women in Nunavut were less likely to experience unwanted sexual behaviour in a public space than their counterparts in Yukon or the Northwest Territories.

The report, which focuses on the three territories, draws on the results of a national survey on gender-based violence conducted in 2018. That survey collected responses from more than 2,500 residents of the territories.

The report notes that Nunavut’s sexual assault rate is nearly six times the national average. Yet the survey results show that Nunavut is the least likely territory for women to be targets of unwanted sexual behaviour in a public space.

One-quarter of women in Nunavut reported having experienced at least one unwanted sexual behaviour in a public space in 2018. That’s compared to 41 per cent of Yukon women and 38 per cent of women in the N.W.T.

The survey found similar results for men: 11 per cent of Nunavut men reported being the target of unwanted sexual behaviour, compared with 18 per cent in the N.W.T.

The report’s authors offer a few possible explanations for these results. One has to do with how Nunavut has a far more dispersed population than the N.W.T. or Yukon, with a smaller share of its population in its capital city.

Other research has found that residents of cities are more likely to report unwanted sexual behaviours in public places than those who live in smaller, more rural areas. The reason, in short, is that smaller communities have fewer public gathering places.

“They speculated that urban cores have more public spaces, with more people, higher population density and a greater degree of anonymity, which could provide more opportunities for such behaviours to occur,” the report states.

The territory’s three capital cities all report fairly similar levels of unwanted sexual behaviour. But while about 80 per cent of the Yukon’s population lives in Whitehorse, and about half of the N.W.T’s residents live in Yellowknife, fewer than 20 per cent of Nunavummiut live in Iqaluit.

But there seem to be other factors at play, because in Nunavut’s other communities, the proportion of women who reported experiencing unwanted sexual behaviours was still lower than that recorded outside the capital cities in the other territories.

The report’s authors suggest that unwanted sexual behaviour may be considered normal in Nunavut’s smaller communities, as a consequence of intergenerational trauma caused by colonization and the impacts of residential schools.

“For example, studies have noted that the history of violence resulting from colonization and residential schools may have led to some normalization of violence among Inuit women, who represent the vast majority of Nunavut women outside of Iqaluit,” the study states.

“Therefore, there could be under-reporting of some inappropriate sexual behaviours, in cases where those who experienced them may not have fully perceived their threatening or violent nature, especially in the less serious instances.”

These same dynamics may help explain why the survey results found that, across the territories, fewer Indigenous women than non-Indigenous women reported having experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in a public space. These results are at odds with other studies that show Indigenous women in the territories are at greater risk than non-Indigenous women of being subjected to sexual violence.

First Nation and Métis women reported similar rates of unwanted sexual behaviour in a public space as non-Indigenous women, at around 40 per cent. Inuit women, meanwhile, were about half as likely to report these experiences.

“As mentioned earlier, some studies have highlighted a normalization of violence among some Inuit women, which could have contributed to an under-reporting of some inappropriate sexual behaviours, especially in cases where the violent or threatening nature might have been less clear,” the report states.

You can read the full report online.

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Not Counterintuitive on

    It’s not counterintuitive when you know that people shack up early and often in Nunavut and the vast majority of sexual assault happens in the home through intimate partner or family.

  2. Posted by Janelle on

    “Unwanted sexual behavior” is sexual assault. Please do not down play the issue of gender based violence in the north and change the title of the article.

    • Posted by Definitions Matter on

      Oh, please. You can’t just keep calling things something they’re not because you feel like it. If you want to call it sexual harassment, go ahead, but it’s not sexual assault. By calling it sexual assault, you’re playing down the actual issue of sexual assault.
      If you read the actual report, you’ll notice it references sexual assault more than a dozen times, and gender-based violence over 2 dozen times. Surprise, surprise, , they are not synonyms.
      It’s also, you know, a survey, and you might consider they chose to use those words because they’re clear to everyone, whereas terms like “sexual assault” can be interpreted differently and, in your case, incorrectly.

      • Posted by Woke Olympian on

        I can’t believe the violence and patriarchy in this cis-heteronormative response. Deconstruct your privilege, dude!

  3. Posted by uvanga on

    Nunavut has less people in Canada, when they do their rate its done by per 100,00 population in the community. for example, Canada says that Nunavut has the highest rate in violence, Canada rate there crime rate per 100,000 population but Nunavut has only less than 39,000 so they rate Nunavut by total people in Nunavut not per 100,000 population. that is what they also do in unwanted sexual behavior and very other crime.

    • Posted by Keith on

      Per 100, 000 is the standard way of presenting population statistics so that you can directly compare different groups without having to do a mental calculation. For example, if you have 10 assaults in a group of 10,000 people, 10 assaults in a different group of 100,000 people, and 10 assaults in a group of 1,000,000 people, by saying that the first group had 100 assault per 100,000, the second had 10 per 100,000, and the third 1 per 100,000, it’s easy to see the assault rate in the first group is 100 times the rate in the third.

      • Posted by uvanga on

        That’s what i said thou per 100,000, but instead of per 100,000 they calculate Nunavut by the total of people which is almost 39,000

        • Posted by Simple Math on

          No, they don’t calculate Nunavut by the total number of people. They still calculate by 100,000 population. The difference is that in somewhere like Alberta with population 4,371,000, they would take the number of instances and divide by 43.71 to get the per 100,000 rate, whereas in Nunavut with population 38,780 they would divide by 0.3878 to get the per 100,000 rate.
          For instance, if Alberta had 1,000 murders in a year, they were have a murder rate of 22.9 (per 100,000). If Nunavut had 20 murders in a year, the rate is not 20, it is 51.6, because that’s the rate per 100,000 people.
          It’s not hard.

          • Posted by uvanga on

            yeah, it was just change to per 100,000, but it use to be total population thou

            • Posted by okay on

              Hey, you can do it per 1000 if that makes more sense. It does not change the rate, but it may look simpler if you want to compare it with other small jurisdictions. So for example, if it is 200 per 100,000, then it is 2 per 1000.

          • Posted by uvanga on

            oh OK, did my research total crime from 2007 to 2017 in Nunavut is 1098.40, they just equal it to per 100,000 in 2019 crime rate. thanks for making it sense

  4. Posted by Context on

    Thanks for including context and analysis to your report. I had just seen a report on this study that bothered me quite a bit because it lacked context (https://www.rcinet.ca/en/2020/08/27/unwanted-sexual-behaviour-in-north-echoes-the-rest-of-canada-study/) and could therefore be interpreted as suggesting that we were relatively doing ok in Nunavut in terms of inappropriate sexual behaviours. Your piece brings the necessary context to the issue. I wish all reporting made reference to context, whether or not we like the context.

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