Empowering Families and Communities to address Rape and Incestby Nicola on 2013-05-09
Empowering Families and Communities to address
Rape and Incest
By Dr Nicola Davies
*WARNING: THIS IS A SENSITIVE TOPIC, SO PLEASE READ WITH CAUTION*
The remote location of Kugluktuk, Nunavut, does not shelter this community from the sexual violence and abuse that is so prevalent in Inuit communities, especially for those in Nunavut. In fact, the amount of sexual assaults in Nunavut is approximately ten times more than those found in the rest of the country. Rape and sexual violence from a family member can almost be considered daily life for some and it is critical that this should not continue.
The very nature of rape, incest or any sexual abuse ensures that a very small number of victims will report the assault. This obscures the problem and makes it seem like a less common occurrence than it is. In addition, the definition of sexual abuse is often obscured in the mind of the victim. Many of the women who were forced into sexual acts either as minors or adults do not believe themselves to be victims of sexual abuse. Add to that the number of children who feel that they are somehow to blame for the rape and are therefore too ashamed to report it.
To further aggravate the issue of reporting rapes and incest is fear. The victim or family members who know about the abuse are often afraid of the abuser and afraid of being punished by the abuser for reporting them. Women are also afraid that Social Services will take their children away from them. This leads to the statistics being vague and under-represented at the best of times and frighteningly inaccurate in most cases.
In the case of incestuous rape, the circumstances are even more complicated. This is especially true if the offender is a parent or step-parent of the victim. The rest of the family may be unaware of the abuse and unwilling to acknowledge it if it does come to light. In some cases the family is aware of the incestuous assault but strained relationships, fear and jealousy prevent them from intervening on behalf of the victim.
Why is Rape and Incest so Prevalent in Inuit Society?
A large percentage of sexual assault offenders are found to be the victims of past violent or sexual assaults. One possible, and very dominant, precursor to sexual assault has been the influence of the residential schools on the children forced to attend them. These schools were very much like detention centres or prisons and were in stark contrast to the lifestyle Inuit children were raised in. They were cut off from their families, communities and traditions and the trauma sustained by the children who were forced to attend them is carried with them through to adulthood. Often that trauma was further exacerbated by sexual abuse endured in the residential schools, victims being both boys and girls. In some cases, the victims of sexual abuse in the residential schools became abusers to the next generation, setting in motion a violent cycle of rape and torment.
The abuse of drugs and alcohol also go hand in hand with rape. Sometimes, men, who in a sober state would not harm a woman or child, become sexual offenders when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Often, they will also ply their victims with drugs or alcohol to make them less capable of resistance. Although this is a trend seen in all societies throughout the world, it also has an impact in Kugluktuk and the rest of Nunavut. This consequence of alcohol and drug abuse within Inuit communities is particularly devastating due to the fact that traditional Inuit society did not comprise alcohol. The introduction of alcohol into these communities has made way for a myriad of social ills, not the least of which is the increase in rape and incest.
The growing western economy has a tendency to exclude Inuit men from progress towards a money-centred economy. While the role of women in the home will always be there, new roles are also opening up for them and very often they make the main contribution towards the household income. In a predominantly patriarchal society, this can be demeaning for Inuit men. As documented within the literature, one way for a man to reassert his power is through sexual violence. This does not imply that every Inuit man who finds he is relying on his wife’s income will become a sexual offender, but it does have an impact on those who might be predisposed to such acts.
The impact on the victims of rape and incest, and on the community as a whole, is far reaching. Consider, for example, its influences on suicide rates. Very often victims of rape feel that they have no one who will help them or that there is no way of removing themselves from the situation they are in other than through suicide. The teenage suicide rate in Nunavut is alarmingly high and this could be partly due to the prevalence of rape and incest. Another possible escape that victims of sexual abuse can, and very often do, turn to is drug and alcohol abuse. In addition, the emotional and psychological damage that is caused by rape or sexual assault by a family member continues through to adulthood. This can manifest in the form of self-harm, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, low-self esteem, sexual dysfunction and difficulties creating and maintaining interpersonal relationships.
Preserving Traditional Family Bonds
It is important for communities to support each other. In traditional Inuit culture, the community and, more directly, the family was responsible for the well-being of the individuals within in. If someone was being hurt or abused it was the duty of the family to prevent the abuse. Failing that, it was the responsibility of the community to take care of the victim. While some aspects of traditional Inuit culture have been lost to westernization, this is one tradition that Inuit must preserve – for the health and well-being of today’s Inuit and future generations.
If you have been the victim of rape or incest, support can be accessed at Pauktuutit, Inuit Women of Canada: http://pauktuutit.ca/abuse-prevention/victims-of-crime/
Dr Nicola Davies is a Psychology Consultant and Freelance Writer with an interest in health and well-being. Her publications can be viewed at www.healthpsychologyconsultancy.com. Alternatively, you might like to sign up to her free blog: http://healthpsychologyconsultancy.wordpress.com/