Urban Aboriginal Victims of Crime and Their Police Reporting Practices

Article excerpt

Canadian research indicates that victims of crime do not consistently report their victimization experiences to the police. This is particularly true among minority and marginalized groups in society, such as Aboriginal people. While Aboriginal people are more likely to have contact with the police, and for more serious reasons, than other Canadians, they underreport their own victimization experiences. One hypothesized reason for this non-reporting is the perception among Aboriginal victims that too many police officers have negative stereotypical views of Aboriginal people, have a limited understanding of Aboriginal lifestyles and culture, and operate under organizational policies and practices that hinder the development of positive police relationships with Aboriginal communities. This paper examines the reporting practices of a sample of 1,229 Aboriginal people living in a major urban centre in response to their most serious lifetime victimization experience. Only slightly more than half of the participants contacted the police in response to their most serious lifetime victimization, and the rates were slightly higher for females than males and for older respondents (those over 45 years old). While the substantial non-reporting by Aboriginal people of their victimizations suggests that the police are still not seen as effective in responding to victim needs, it is evident that Aboriginal people's responses to their victimization experience reflect many personal and social factors as respondents generally had positive perceptions of their local police.

Generally, the use of various research techniques, including victimization studies, self-report surveys, and official statistics reveal a large discrepancy between the actual amount of crime in society and the rate at which victims notify the police as a result of being criminally victimized. In other words, criminal victimization, even involving serious and violent crimes, is acutely under reported in Canada (Besserer and Trainor, 2000). In particular, Aboriginal people experience disproportionately high rates of criminal victimization in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2001), however, they consistently under report their victimization experiences to the police (GSS, 1999). Despite this chronic problem, there is little research into Aboriginal people's reporting practices. What limited research exists indicates that there are likely distinctive factors that explain why Aboriginal victims of crime do not report to the police. In this paper, the reporting patterns of a large sample of urban Aboriginal victims will be examined.

Victimization reporting practices of Aboriginal people, and the related barriers to their notifying the police, are a major policing police issue, since, according to the National Crime Prevention Centre (2001), Aboriginal people are more likely to have contact with the police, and for more serious reasons, than other Canadians. Part of the complexity of understanding this Aboriginal victim and police connection is the evolving context of their contacts; increasing numbers of Aboriginal people reside in major urban centres in Canada and have personal lifestyle profiles that increase their risk for victim contact with the police. Most importantly, the younger demographic of the Aboriginal people in urban centres, as well as their high migration rates, high unemployment rates, and low education levels are all correlated with increased levels of crime, deviance, and victimization (Corrado, Cohen, & Boudreau, 2002).

Whether in an urban or rural context, official statistics indicate that violence is increasingly a serious problem among Aboriginal people, however, as mentioned above, there is a large dark figure associated with this violent victimization trend (GSS, 1999). Victim surveys indicate that a large segment of the Aboriginal population does not report victimizations to anyone, let alone the police. Even more disturbing, many Aboriginal women do not seek medical attention when they are physically and/or sexually abused (LaRocque, 2003). …