Native women’s association of canada

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Native women’s association of canada

Investigating the Linkages between FASD, Gangs, Sexual Exploitation and Women Abuse in the Canadian Aboriginal Population: A Preliminary Study

Dr. Mark Totten


The purpose of this research report for the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is to provide an exploratory investigation into the linkages and to begin a journey into making the connection between FASD, sexual exploitation, gangs, and extreme violence in the lives of Aboriginal young women.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents 2

Introduction 3

Background 3

Methodology 4

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Canada 5

Aboriginal Gangs in Canada 7

Physical Violence and Murder in the Lives of Aboriginal Girls and Women 8

Sexual Exploitation of Aboriginal Girls and Women in Canada 9


Sexual Exploitation and FASD 11

Gangs and FASD 11

Sexual Exploitation and Gangs 12

Gangs, FASD, Sexual Exploitation and Extreme Violence in the Lives of Aboriginal Girls and Women 14

Conclusion 15

Overlapping Cycles of Colonization, Ill health and Violence, an illustration 17

Acknowledgements 18

Sources 19

End Notes 23


Over the last decade there has been an increase in the reporting of Aboriginal gangs and the impact on individuals, communities and youth. Some reports have described youth involvement in these gangs as reaching crisis proportions, particularly in prairie provinces, since the social impacts of gangs are directly linked to the drug trade, violence, weapons trade, sexual exploitation and the trafficking of women and girls. The impact on Aboriginal women and girls is particularly worrisome, as their involvement in gang activity is increasing, which may be directly related to their vulnerability and marginalization in Canadian society. This link is surmised by the fact that Aboriginal girls and women are significantly more likely than any other group in the country to die at a young age from suicide, homicide or serious illness; they suffer disproportionately elevated rates of sexual and physical abuse as children and adults; rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) appear to be elevated in the Aboriginal (particularly the First Nations) population, which is directly linked to higher rates of drug and alcohol use and addictions at a young age; and, they make up the large majority of all individuals in Canada who are involved in the sex trade and sexual trafficking. In addition to these indicators, there is increasing evidence that suggests gangs are responsible for the sexual exploitation and sexual slavery of Aboriginal women and girls.

While there is an increasing awareness of the involvement of Aboriginal girls in gangs, there is little published evidence to determine concrete linkages between gangs, sexual exploitation and violence. One factor that has not yet been explored, as both a cause, consequence and compounding factor of the exploitation of Aboriginal women and girls and gang involvement is FASD. The purpose of this research report for the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is to provide an exploratory investigation into the linkages between many of the above-mentioned phenomena - to begin a journey into making the connection between FASD, sexual exploitation, gangs, and extreme violence in the lives of Aboriginal young women.1 In so doing, we hope to develop a plan to prevent Aboriginal young women from using alcohol and other drugs during pregnancy. We will not be seduced into going down the path of ‘just say no.’ Reducing the prevalence of FASD requires resources to address the history of colonization. It requires that we celebrate the resiliency and strength of Aboriginal peoples.


Anecdotal reports in Canada and a small number of investigations in other countries suggest that young people who have FASD may be more likely to be gang-involved and to have experienced sexual exploitation. Gender seems to play an important role in these phenomena: FASD-affected girls and young women tend to be victimized by childhood sexual abuse and experience sexual slavery in gangs, whereas men are more likely to be sexual traffickers and perpetrate other forms of exploitation on Aboriginal girls and women. Boys with FASD are reported to have experienced high rates of childhood sexual abuse as well.

A handful of studies on selected First Nations reserves in Canada suggest that the prevalence of FASD may be considerably higher than that of the non-Aboriginal population. These data must be interpreted with caution because very few suspected cases have been screened using acceptable medical assessments. A complicating factor to this study of FASD and the involvement of Aboriginal women and youth in gangs is it is difficult to disentangle the effects of FASD from the outcomes of colonization, forced assimilation and Residential Schools.2 While FASD is preventable, the root causes that lead to FASD are not so simple to treat. The risk factors related to exploitation, particularly sexual exploitation in gangs, are reasons why these same women may use substances during pregnancy as a response to trauma, which is so often prevalent in their lives. Despite the limitations, this evidence does indicate the need for comprehensive programs. If we fail to implement comprehensive FASD prevention and intervention programs now, things will get much worse very shortly simply because the Aboriginal birth rate is rapidly increasing (the child and youth population in many cities and rural areas will double within the next decade). In addition to addressing the FASD issues, youth gang prevention and intervention is incredibly important because the rate at which Aboriginal young gang members are killing each other and committing suicide far exceeds levels of such extreme violence in any other group in Canada, perhaps in the world. Finally, it predicted that the large number of missing and sexually trafficked Aboriginal women and girls in Canada will only rise if these issues are not addressed, as will the rate at which men murder this marginalized and vulnerable population.

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