The Circle of Violence

Family Violence

Family violence can happen to anyone.  It happens all the time, to all levels and members of society.  However, according to a 2006 Statistics Canada report Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends, family violence is identified as “one of the most important issues facing Aboriginal people in Canada” (64).
In this report, the reported spousal violence rates for Aboriginal women was three times higher than non-Aboriginal women, and twice as high than Aboriginal men.  It is important to note that these are incomplete numbers because many assaults and abuses go unreported because Aboriginal women more likely to use social services available to them rather than calling the RCMP and reporting the abuse.  Unfortunately, we have fewer resources in the Yukon, with limited shelters or transition homes and affordable housing to go to when searching for a safe place away from the abusive situation.
Aboriginal women suffer abuse that is more severe, and the impacts far worse, than non-Aboriginal members of our society.  Aboriginal women fear losing housing and community support, especially in small isolated northern communities.   It is therefore essential that friends, family and communities start standing up to prevent family violence.
It’s not OK.  It’s not a family matter.  It’s a crime.

Who’s at Risk of being Abused?

Aboriginal women are at a higher risk of experiencing family, spousal, or intimate partner violence because of a higher concentration of risk factors in our communities: lower income levels, a younger population, higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse.
Vulnerable members of the community are at higher risk, both young and old.  In particular, women under 25 especially with young children; pregnant women; and women lacking community support – those with few family members, friends, or financial resources.
In Aboriginal communities, there are other factors that are difficult to measure that influence the rates of violence.  These include colonization, feeling devalued, the destruction of traditional ways of life, and history of abuse in residential schools (Statistics Canada, 2006.) The residential school system also removed children from their families and resulted in a loss of knowledge and positive relationship and parenting role models.

Healing needs to occur at many levels to address and prevent violence in our communities, but it is important to not condone violence of any kind, or we will perpetuate the circle of violence and our communities will never be able to heal.

Identifying Violence

Family violence can be subtle and insidious.  Because it often occurs in the privacy of one’s home, or in intimate relationships when friends and family aren’t around, it can be difficult to recognize when a friend, family member, or even yourself is in an abusive relationship.

There are several types of abuse, all which involve an abuse of power that results in controlling the victim in one way or another.  If you recognize any of these behaviours in your own relationship, or in a friend’s or family member’s relationship, ask for help .    It’s not OK.  It’s not a family matter.  It’s a crime

Abuse Indicators (summarized from

Emotional and Psychological Abuse
Aboriginal women report more instances of being emotionally abused than non-Aboriginal women.  Many people fail to acknowledge emotional abuse as a crime because they don’t consider it serious or violent behaviour, but it is a crime.  It breaks down your Spirit, and you deserve to be treated with respect and integrity.

Abusive relationships usually begin with and sometimes don’t go beyond emotional or psychological abuse.  This abusive behaviour includes a wide range of actions intended to break down your Spirit.  Some signs of emotional abuse are:

  • Ongoing and intense criticism of you, your friends and family, your actions, or dress
  • Name calling and other verbal abuse used to intimidate, embarrass and humiliate you
  • Excessive jealousy and possessiveness or ‘ownership’ of you, your body, and your time
  • Obsessively interested in and/or controlling of your daily activities
  • Isolating you from friends and family
  • Emotional blackmail to make you feel bad for having an independent self, like threats to harm themselves (for example, “if you leave I’ll kill myself”)
  • Threats and violence to others including friends, family, co-workers, as well as your own property and pets
  • Threats implying control or abusing power concerning community status, marital status, housing status, immigration, custody and access of children
  • Reckless and dangerous behaviour such as driving dangerously when trying to intimidate you

Financial Control and Abuse
Controlling money is one way the abuser gains control over the victim.  It empowers the abuser while increasing the victim’s dependence and decreasing the options for independent decision-making. The abuser may:

  • Have complete control of the finances, refuse you access and information on your bank accounts and withhold, restrict or control money that you need for food, housing, rent, bills, clothes.
  • Have irresponsible spending habits that negatively impact you and your family.
  • Bully you into signing financial and legal documents such as credit and bank applications or loans.

Physical Violence
Often, emotional, psychological and financial abuse will lead to physical violence. While the offender attempts to destroy the victim’s spirit through emotional and psychological abuse, removes means of acting independently through financial abuse, the ultimate demonstration of an offender’s control is by physically violating and abusing the victim.

Some examples of physical violence are:

  • Hitting
  • Punching
  • Slapping
  • Kicking
  • Shoving
  • Pushing
  • dragging and hair pulling
  • restraining and confining such as not letting you out of the house or vehicle)
  • tying up or binding
  • spitting and biting

As the violence escalates, victims may suffer choking, burning with fire or chemicals, being hit with weapons.  If the circle of violence isn’t broken, victims may be murdered by their abuser.

Sexual Violence
Sexual violence is a form of physical violence.  It happens when the abuser uses sex as a ways of controlling or having power over the victim and to fufill their own needs without respecting the victim’s needs or requests.  Sexual violence can occur between friends, intimate relationships, between partners, married couples and family.  Some examples of sexual violence are:

  • any unwanted or forced sexual contact with anyone
  • withholding sexual, physical or intimate contact (for example as punishment)
  • forced exposure to or participation in pornography, such as making you look at sexual pictures that you’re not comfortable with, or forcing you to take pictures or film of a sexual nature, and/or sharing intimate private photos without your permission
  • refusal to wear or use any type of protection to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections such as condoms, birth control, etc.
  • using sexually demeaning and humiliating comments, jokes or accusations,

The Cycle of Abuse

Violent behaviour and actions have a repeating cycle.  It is important to recognize the different phases of cycle so that you can break the circle and move into the circle of healing.

There are four phases to the cycle: incident, make up or reconciliation, calm, and tension.  These phases have no timeframe or timeline.  The time between incidents can be short or long.  When abuse occurs on an ongoing or regular basis, it may seem like normal or routine behaviour.  Or episodes of calm can be quite long and so it is easy to believe that the abuser has changed and meant everything they said in the reconciliation.