Watchdog calls rate of child sexual abuse in Nunavut a crisis

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Nunavut’s representative for children and youth says the high rate of child sexual abuse in the territory amounts to a crisis.

Jane Bates testified this week before MPs to discuss her office’s 2019-20 annual report.

The Arctic Children and Youth Foundation says young people in Nunavut are being abused at a rate 10 times the national average. And the Nunavut Department of Family Services says there are 416 registered sex offenders in the territory – 209 offenses against children.

Bates said the Nunavut Minister of Family Services receives two child sexual abuse disclosures per week. In one year, that makes 104 reports. Bates also said many cases go unreported.

“It’s a crisis,” Bates said.

She said the problem would likely be worse than is known because the Government of Nunavut does not keep consistent statistics on child sexual abuse. In his report, Bates says the government is failing to protect children to the point where child abuse appears to be “tolerated” in the territory.

“In order to deal with a crisis … you must first start with a description of the scale and impact of the problem,” Bates told the legislature.

It will be difficult to change anything until basic information about Nunavut’s youth is gathered to help understand the scale of the problem, she said.

“What this brings me to the question is: how does this government make decisions? “

Yvonne Niego, deputy minister of family services, said the data is being kept in paper files, on USB sticks and on computers across the territory, and that her department is working on setting up a electronic database.

Bates said that in addition to aftercare, interventions and services should be developed and provided to children and their families to address abuse and “hopefully prevent future generations from suffering abuse and neglect. “.

“The community needs to recognize and understand that child abuse occurs and what constitutes abuse. “

Bates said services should take historical trauma into account and include information on how extended family and community members can intervene.

“We have to talk about it. It is an uncomfortable situation. It’s an uncomfortable conversation. But not talking about it, not approaching it, does not make it disappear.

Deputy ministers of health, justice, family services and education faced questions from MPs on the report.

Niego said his department suffers from a staff shortage and high turnover of social workers and community service workers.

“We are in serious need of supportive people who understand social work,” Niego said.

There are eight social workers in Iqaluit and two to three others work in the rest of the territory, Niego said. The lack of housing creates a barrier to hiring social workers in communities.

“I can’t find enough housing in the communities to get a social worker,” she said.

Bates agreed that it is difficult to hire social workers in Nunavut due to housing shortages and human resource issues, but argued that some issues can still be addressed without more capacity.

“It’s not your lack of staff. It is (that) there is someone in the job who does not follow policy and procedure.

The standing committee for oversight of government operations and public accounts is due to draft a report and make recommendations based on the two-day hearing to be tabled this fall.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 22, 2021.

This story was produced with financial assistance from Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

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