It can be very hard for people who have experienced violence or crime to speak up. Cecilia Wood knows this well, after experiencing the violent death of members of her family.
“It’s hard to go to someone and trust someone again when you’ve been victimized. There’s sources out there but when you’re shy, you don’t want to talk,” she said. “There’s shame and there’s a lot of things you’ve gone through, you don’t want to share again, talk about it, it’s like you’re getting victimized again because you’re sharing and talking.”
Originally from Behchoko, Wood spoke at a sharing circle at the Native Women’s Association of the NWT in Yellowknife on May 31.
She said nothing helped ease her suffering until she found a relationship with God, allowing her to forgive the person who had victimized her. She said speaking in groups like the sharing circle is cathartic and important for survivors to find comfort and connection.
“There is hope, there is resources out there, there is people that care,” she said.
The sharing circle was organized by Marie Speakman, victim service worker at Native Women’s, in honour of National Victims and Survivors of Crime Week. The theme this year was empowering resilience.
“As a child growing up, there’s so much abuse. And then at the public school, and residential school, there, the sexual abuse, the strapping. All that and yet I still come out to strive, do good, strive for good,” Speakman said, of her experience. “You get knocked down but you come out.”
This is how Speakman defines resilience. It is that resilience among women who’ve been affected by crime she wanted to empower when she organized the evening.
Sitting in a wide circle, many wrapped in blankets, the women took turns speaking about this experiences with violence and crime. Parts of their stories were echoed by others in the room.
They spoke of abuse starting at a young age, then turning to addiction to cope, which put them in danger of further abuse. Many shared their family’s stories of inter-generational trauma, of facing indifference by police and other agencies when in need of help.
Finally they spoke of a daily resolve to not resort to anger or harmful ways of coping, to work towards forgiveness of those who had harmed them.
Yvone Doolittle, a guest speaker at the sharing circle, said people who’ve been victimized will have a hard time reaching out.
“They’re not going to be willing to come out and do anything. You’ll see that they’ll want to stay in their shadow, or I call it the darkness. “It’s difficult for them to leave that, it weighs on them heavily,” she said.
Doolittle said being a friend, encouraging good habits and helping them to see the beauty of each day are some things people can do to support friends and loved ones who’ve experienced violence.
“I think laughter and fun is really important too. It doesn’t always have to be the heavy healing, pillow pounding pillows kind of stuff. It’s liveliness, it’s taking them out so that they can dance and be around liveliness,” Doolittle said.
While crime rates have gone down in the territories, they are still almost twice as high as those recorded in the provinces. A Statistics Canada report noted crime rates decreased by 29 per cent from 2009 to 2014 in the NWT.
The report also found one third of territorial residents experienced violence during their childhood, either being victimized physically or sexually. Older residents were more likely to be victims of mistreatment in childhood than younger residents. Those who were victimized as children were more likely to be re-victimized again as adults.
The report stated while spousal abuse had decreased in the provinces, in the territories it had not changed since 2009. More than one in 10 residents with a spouse, common law partner, ex-partner or ex-spouse reported they had been victims of this type of violence in the past five years. Indigenous peoples of the territory are overrepresented in these statistics, in particular among the most severe types of spousal violence including sexual assault, threats made with a weapon, beating and choking. Of these serious types of intimate partner crimes, 93 per cent of the victims were Indigenous.